At least 18 local and national organizations committed to advancing and protecting the rights of individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the US have condemned a remark made by (Washington) District of Columbia Councilmember Marion Barry regarding businesses owned by Asian Americans.
He reportedly said, “We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops. They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now.”
He made the deplorable remark in Washington, DC last April 3 during his Ward 8 primary election-victory party.
In a statement issued to various media outlets, the 18 organizations said, “With Councilmember Barry’s previous commitment to civil rights, we are particularly disappointed by this comment. While he recently indicated that he was ‘sorry for offending the Asian community,’ we call upon him to issue a sincere apology and ensure meaningful engagement with our communities to improve the well-being of all individuals in his district.
“Councilmember Barry’s statement is of serious concern because it undermines the notion that developing the District of Columbia’s economy and neighborhoods is in the interest of all communities, regardless of national origin or ethnic background. Numerous institutions, from small businesses to non-profit organizations, as well as individuals, provide vital services and job opportunities, contribute their tax dollars and engage in civic and political life within the city.”
The groups noted that according to 2007 data, Asians in the District of Columbia own 5.9 percent of businesses, joining other communities in strengthening the economy.
The statement also said, “Rather than acknowledging and appreciating the contributions that Asian businesses along with other racial and ethnic communities have made to the city, Councilmember Barry’s remark appear to fan the flames of racial divisions and imply that Asian Americans” are not participating in the efforts to develop a robust economy that benefits all residents.
The organizations also expressed extreme concerns that remarks such as the one made by Barry “can perpetuate stereotypes of Asians taking jobs away from other Americans, which can fuel racism and animosity towards community members.”
The groups called upon Councilmember Barry to issue “a meaningful apology and officially retract his statement, refrain from engaging in harmful rhetoric regarding Asians and other immigrants, and develop meaningful relationships with our communities in the District of Columbia.
“Our organizations also view this as a prime opportunity to work with Mayor Vincent Gray and the council members on the ‘One City, One Future’ initiative. We look forward to proactively identifying next steps that we can take together to continue to create a more diverse and growing economy for all residents.
The national organizations that issued the statement are APIAVote, Asian American Action Fund, Asian American Justice Center, Asian American Center for Advancing Justice, Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, Council of Korean Americans, Japanese American Citizens League, National Association of Filipino American Associations, National Korean American Service and Education Consortium, National Asian Pacific American Center on Aging, National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, Organization of Chinese Americans, Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, South Asian Americans Leading Together and Southeast Asia Action Resource Center.
In a related development, the Michigan Asian Pacific Affairs Commission (MAPAAC) also condemned Barry’s derogatory comment.
Connie Dang, vice chair person of MAPAAC, said, “We would expect that in the nation’s capital, elected officials would refrain from using racial and ethnic slurs. Instead, Councilmember Barry’s comment served to both offend and further divide the people. His comment perpetuates stereotypes about immigrant communities and fuels animosity toward Asian Pacific Americans.
“With partner organizations across the nation, we call on him to retract his statement and issue a heartfelt apology for his inappropriate remarks.”