OVER THE YEARS, Marion Barry has said and done so many questionable things that the city whose politics he long dominated has become inured to his behavior. But his racist remarks this week about Asian Americans — and his oblivious response — are too ugly to ignore. On Tuesday Ward 8 Democrats looked past his failings to nominate him to a third consecutive term on the D.C. Council, but that doesn’t mean that the rest of the District and its political leaders should excuse his behavior.
Mr. Barry used the occasion of a victory party Tuesday to make this ignorant observation: “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.” The bigoted remarks were picked up by WRC-TV cameras and, fortunately, sparked a fair amount of outrage. Among those objecting, to their credit, were Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) and D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D). They made clear, as the mayor put it, that “there is no room in this wonderfully diverse city for comments that disparage anyone on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, creed, disability or sexual orientation.”
Mr. Barry initially doubled down in the face of the uproar, telling The Post’s Mike DeBonis that his critics don’t understand him; that his has been a life dedicated to civil rights and righting wrongs. He claimed that he was talking only about the need to upgrade businesses that provide poor service in Ward 8, but when asked why he singled out Asians, Mr. Barry said, “Because that’s reality. Who owns these little restaurants? Who owns them? You know, Asians . . .” Mr. Barry could have made his point about sprucing up businesses in his community without slurring an entire race. But that seems lost on him.
Later, Mr. Barry apologized, after a fashion, tweeting that “I’m very sorry for offending the Asian American community . . . although [my remarks were] taken out of context by many about the conditions of some Ward 8 carryouts.” In a statement, the council member said that he was referring only to some Asian American businesses that “sell highly caloric food” and don’t contribute to the neighborhood. “It is to these less than stellar Asian American businessmen in Ward 8 that my remarks were directed, not the whole of Asian businessmen in Ward 8 or, the Asian American population.”
But does he regret his words? No, Mr. Barry told us. The problem was not with what he said but with how his words had been interpreted, particularly by those who — and here he included The Post editorial page — have an agenda as Barry-haters.
It’s true that we endorsed someone else in the Ward 8 primary. But this has nothing to do with political preference. Mr. Barry’s friends and supporters point out that he is 76, has put in years of service to the city and so should get a pass. In our view, stirring up racial hatred should never get a pass.