The Washington Post

Marion Barry: ‘I misspoke: I should have said, Polish’

Extending his apology tour to a new day and a new ethnic group, D.C. Council member Marion Barry issued a seven-word statement Friday morning attempting to quickly clarify his reference to “Polacks.”

Marion Barry (Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post)

The statement, coming less than 24 hours after Barry’s gaffe, represents Barry’s attempt to more quickly respond to what has become his near weekly use of offensive or politically incorrect language.

Last month, it took 48 hours of mounting public pressure for Barry to apologize after he called Asian-owned businesses in Ward 8 “dirty.”

A few weeks later, Barry offended Filipinos when he said the District needs to “grow” its own nurses instead of having to “be scrounging around” to hire them from the Philippines and other countries.

After a “Say Sorry, Barry” campaign was launched, Barry pledged to work closely with Asian advocacy groups. During a meeting with Asian-American leaders Thursday in Southeast, Barry referenced “Polacks,” a term Polish Americans have historically considered offensive and derogatory.

Asked about the underlying sources of conflict between blacks and Asians, Barry said the United States “has had racial tensions since it was founded.”

“The Irish caught hell, the Jews caught hell, the Polacks caught hell,” Barry said. “We want Ward 8 to be the model of diversity.”

His remark prompted a demand from Gary Kenzer, executive director of the Chicago-based Polish American Association, that Barry “apologize to the Polish American community of this country.”

“You wouldn’t say a derogatory statement to an African American, a Jewish American, and we deserve the same respect,” Kenzer told The Washington Post’s Paul Schwartzman.

Barry, 76, easily won reelection as Ward 8’s council representative in April when he received 73 percent of the vote against four other candidates. Barry, a former four-term mayor, is currently searching for a communications director to help him better shape his media image.

Tim Craig is The Post’s bureau chief in Pakistan. He has also covered conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and within the District of Columbia government.


Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read


Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
From clubfoot to climbing: Double amputee lives life of adventure
Learn to make traditional soup dumplings
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
Play Videos
Unconventional warfare with a side of ale
The rise and fall of baseball cards
How to keep your child safe in the water
Play Videos
'Did you fall from heaven?': D.C.'s pick-up lines
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
How much can one woman eat?
Play Videos
How to get organized for back to school
How to buy a car via e-mail
The signature drink of New Orleans