Controversial Washington Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry has toiled in the political spotlight for both positive gains and infamously negative reasons as well. Barry’s recent “dirty shops” comments toward Asian business owners in his district ignited a firestorm of bad press; however, Barry responded to the unsavory buzz that has ensued over the comments, saying they were not inspired by race.
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Speaking with Reason TV, the four-time former mayor of D.C. sidestepped the controversy with silky political ease. ““That’s not racial,” Barry told Reason. “The fact is that 95 percent of the carry-outs in Ward 8 are owned or managed by Asians. So I’m finished with that.”
On April 3, Barry said:
“We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
Barry later tried to explain his comments, stating that he was addressing the difference in culture, “There’s a cultural difference between a number of ethnic groups — whether it’s Hispanics or whether it’s Asian or White people,” Barry said. “There is a cultural difference because of our socialization, because of our segregation, discrimination. All of this adds to it and affects every aspect of our life.”
Barry’s election-night speech prompted an immediate response from current mayor Vincent Gray, who says he was “deeply disappointed” by the councilman’s remarks. Barry did apologize for lumping all Asian businesspersons into one monolithic group, carefully saying he was addressing the “less-than-stellar Asian-American businessmen” in his district.