by GLORIA CHAN
As members of local and national organizations committed to advancing and protecting the rights of individuals of Asian and Pacific Islander descent in the United States, the undersigned organizations condemn District of Columbia Councilmember Marion Barry’s recent remarks regarding Asian-owned businesses at a campaign event in Washington, D.C.
On April 3, at his Ward 8 primary election victory party, Councilmember Barry made the following statement: “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.”
Given Councilmember Barry’s previous commitment to civil rights, we are particularly disappointed by these comments. While Councilmember Barry has recently indicated that he was “sorry for offending the Asian community,” we call upon him to provide a sincere apology and ensure meaningful engagement with our communities to improve the well-being of all individuals in the 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.
Within the District of Columbia, according to 2007 data, Asians own 5.9% of businesses, joining other communities in strengthening the economy. Rather than acknowledging and appreciating the contributions that Asian businesses, alongside other racial and ethnic communities, have made to the city, Councilmember Barry’s remarks appear to fan the flames of racial divisions and imply that Asian Americans are not invested in developing a robust economy that benefits all residents.
Our organizations are also extremely concerned that remarks such as these can perpetuate stereotypes of Asians taking jobs away from other Americans, which can fuel racism and animosity towards community members. In fact, individuals of Asian descent are frequently blamed for the economic woes that this country has faced when perceptions are fostered that our community is thriving in this economy at the expense of other minority communities with whom we work and live alongside.
In light of these concerns, we call upon Councilmember Barry to provide a meaningful apology and officially retract his statement; refrain from engaging in harmful rhetoric regarding Asian and other immigrant communities; and develop meaningful relationships with our communities in the District of Columbia to understand the contributions and challenges of community members.
Our organizations also view this as a prime opportunity to work with Mayor Vincent Gray and councilmembers on the “One City, One Future” initiative. We look forward to proactively identifying next steps that we can take together to continue to create more diverse and growing economy for all residents.
Local Endorsing Organizations
Asian American LEAD (AALEAD)
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington, D.C. Area
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance – D.C. Chapter (APALA-DC)
Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC)
Dana Tai Soon Burgess & Co.
D.C. Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus
Korean American Drycleaners Association
Korean American Grocers Association of Greater Washington, D.C. (KAGRO-DC)
Many Languages One Voice
National Organization of Vietnamese American Leaders of Greater Washington DC
Network of South Asian Professionals (NetSAP DC)
South Asian American Bar Association – DC (SABA-DC)
Washington Area Liquor Retailers Association (WALRA)
National Endorsing Organizations
Asian American Action Fund
Asian American Justice Center, member of Asian American Center for Advancing Justice
Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS)
Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)
Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA)
Council of Korean Americans
Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)
National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC)
National Asian Pacific American Center on Aging (NAPCA)
National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)
National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)
National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD)
Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)
South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)
Southeast Asia Action Resource Center (SEARAC)