The Washington Post

Asian groups want a more meaningful Barry apology

View Photo Gallery: A look at the career of Marion Barry.

If Marion Barry thought he could release a statement explaining he’s dismayed with only “ some of the Asian business owners” (bold, italic and underline in original) and expect the outrage over his blanket call for Asian businesses to leave Ward 8 to disappear — well, he’s learning that’s not how it works.

For Exhibit A, read Bob McCartney’s Sunday column, wherein Barry pays a visit to Peter Cho, a Korean American who has run the MLK Market on its namesake avenue for decades.

In another time, perhaps, Barry might have been able to pay a personal visit, lay on the charm and defuse a controversy like this. But not this time. Barry ends up calling Cho a “good Asian” — you know, as opposed to all those bad ones — and telling him that he only regretted failing to use a “better set of words.” Barry did not leave Cho satisfied.

Apologizing for giving offense or for using the wrong words is one of the classic hallmarks of the nonapology apology, and some want Barry to do better.

Witness the joint statement issued by no fewer than 37 local and national groups calling on Barry “provide a sincere apology and ensure meaningful engagement with our communities.”

From their statement:

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 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.

And here’s a list of the groups calling on Barry to make further amends:


Asian American LEAD (AALEAD)

Asian Pacific American Bar Association of the Greater Washington DC Area

Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance — DC Chapter (APALA-DC)

Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center (APALRC)

Asian Pacific Americans for Progress — DC (APAP-DC)

Dana Tai Soon Burgess Co

DC Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Caucus


Korean American Drycleaners Association

Korean American Grocers Association of Greater Washington DC (KAGRO-DC)

Many Languages One Voice

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum — DC Chapter (NAPAWF-DC)

National Organization of Vietnamese American Leaders of Greater Washington DC (NOVAL-DC)

Network of South Asian Professionals (NetSAP DC)

South Asian American Bar Association — DC (SABA-DC)

Vietnamese-American Community Service Center

Washington Area Liquor Retailers Association (WALRA)



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 American Labor Alliance (APALA)

Asian Pacific Americans for Progress — National (APAP)

Asian Pacific Islander American Health Forum (APIAHF)

Council of Korean Americans

Japanese American Citizens League (JACL)

National Asian Pacific American Families Against Substance Abuse (NAPAFASA)

National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum (NAPAWF)

National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA)

National Association of Asian American Professionals (NAAAP)

National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development (National CAPACD)

National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA)

National Korean American Service and Education Consortium (NAKASEC)


Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF)

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

Mike DeBonis covers Congress and national politics for The Washington Post. He previously covered D.C. politics and government from 2007 to 2015.


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