Recapping Marion Barry’s bender of racial insensitivy
Barry has recently made racially-charged comments about Asian business owners, Filipino nurses, and Polish people.
Since winning his Democratic primary race eight weeks ago, Washington D.C. City Councilman Marion Barry has made a puzzling streak of insults against racial and ethnic minorities.
Barry’s latest misfire came Thursday, after he appeared at a community meeting where he apologized to insensitive comments he made to Asian-Americans and Filipinos.
At a press conference following the meeting, Barry was asked about the source of racial tensions in the United States, according to the Washington Post. Barry, who was a civil rights activist in the 1960s, said the country “has had racial tensions since was it founded” and recounted its waves of immigrants over the years.
“The Irish caught hell, the Jews caught hell, the Pollacks caught hell,” Barry said. “We want Ward 8 to be the model of diversity.”
The one problem? Polish-Americans consider the word “Pollack” to be a serious insult.
Barry first denied using the term, but later backtracked on his comment, saying “I meant Poles,” the Post reported.
That didn’t stop Polish-American groups from being incensed by Barry’s comments.
“It’s not very nice. It’s just not nice,” Gary Kenzer, executive director of the Chicago-based Polish American Association told BuzzFeed. “What a loose cannon this guy is. Truly a loose cannon. What the hell?”
Barry, 76, first inflamed racial tensions in his southeast D.C. Ward 8, a majority black area of the city which is also home to a small population of Asians, Latinos, and whites.
At his primary victory party on April 5, Barry slammed Asian store owners for opening what he deemed are unclean businesses in his ward.
“We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops,” Barry said, according to video captured by NBC affiliate WRC-TV. “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.”
Barry’s comment earned condemnation from Asian community groups in Washington, as well as D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D). But former four-term mayor appeared not to learn from his mistake.
Less than three weeks later, Barry said that more African-Americans need to be trained to become nurses. But he said so at the expense of nurses who are “immigrants,” particularly from the Philippines.
“[I]f you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” Barry said, according to the Post. “And no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses, and so that we don’t have to go scrounging in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.”
Those remarks earned condemnation from Filipino groups, as well as the nation’s ambassador. Barry said that those comments were taken out of context, but nonetheless, he’s sought to mend fences with minority groups in the city.
Barry is no stranger to having to ask voters for forgiveness. He was sentenced to six months in federal prison for a 1990 drug bust while serving his third term as mayor. He served his time and D.C. voters eventually gave his a fourth term in office in 1994.
So if you think these remarks will do him in, think again. Marion Barry might be the only politician with nine lives.
(Photo: Flickr, tbridge)