Councilman Marion Barry tried to clarify his remarks that Asian business owners “ought to go” Thursday. Apparently it wasn’t meant to be an ethnic slur. The former mayor was attacking stores he thinks are dirty, which happen to be Asian owned.
“We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops,” Barry said Tuesday night as he celebrated his Democratic primary win for his Ward 8 D.C. Council seat. “They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
Seems Barry meant the emphasis to be on the “dirty shops,” not “these Asians.” He – and his staff, presumably (that was a lot of tweeting from someone who needed several minutes to tweet “Tom Sherwood" in February) – took to Twitter Thursday afternoon to clarify that he wants to see more shops and restaurants clean up their locations and carry healthier products and he wants to see fewer “plexiglass barriers” between shop clerks and their customers.
“WE can do a better job. I do NOT disparage the Asian community, but the fact is there r some bizs that can do better!” Barry tweeted.
He added, “Many people have contributed 2 the Renaissance underway. EVERYONE is welcome but must work to make at least their own space a nice place.”
Barry also sought more community involvement in Ward 8 from those business owners.
Barry tried to put his primary night remarks in context on WPFW’s D.C. Politics Hour but continued to use Asian-owned businesses as the examples of the dirty stores he wants to see cleaned.
“I am not stupid enough to condemn a whole race of people,” Barry said. “I’m talking about those persons come into our community, whatever color they are, it happened to be Asian initially.”
D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and Council Chairman Kwame Brown expressed disappointment in Barry's comments.
“There is no room in this wonderfully diverse city for comments that disparage anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation,” he said in a statement released Thursday. “Our energies are better spent focused on building everyone up rather than tearing anyone down.”
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton called Barry Thursday when she learned of the remarks and told him how "stunned" she was. She said Barry said he would issue his own statement, which may have come in the form of another Twitter news conference.
Barry tweeted an apology after 4 p.m. Thursday -- "I'm very sorry for offending the Asian American community" -- but again noted that his remarks were taken out of context and followed with several more tweets explaining what he meant to say. He "meant to convey that some stores need better service to and engagement with the community than what is provided now" and noted a sub-standard treatment in Ward 8.
"I do hope that as much attention focused on my admittedly bad choice of words will be given to the very real and present retail needs of SE."