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Marion Barry Offends Polish People During Apology To Asians

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Marion Barry, shown here at the D.C. Council in January, inadvertently used a derogatory term for another ethnic group while issuing an apology to Asian Americans for some of his earlier comments yesterday. 
Mallory Noe-Payne
Marion Barry, shown here at the D.C. Council in January, inadvertently used a derogatory term for another ethnic group while issuing an apology to Asian Americans for some of his earlier comments yesterday. 

D.C. Council member Marion Barry may have offended another ethnic group yesterday while in the process of apologizing for his recent controversial remarks targeting the Asian community.

At a press conference yesterday, Barry publicly apologized for comments he made in April about Filipino nurses and "dirty shops" owned by Asians. Then, as he outlined the racial tensions that have affected the United States throughout its history, he inadvertently used a derogatory term for people of Polish origin to make his point. 

"The Irish caught hell, the Jews caught hell, the Polacks caught hell, the chinese caught hell," Barry said. "That didn't start yesterday; it started some time back."

After the press conference, while some Asian-American advocacy groups say they are grateful for the apology, they say the issue is more about restoring mutual respect. 

"While he apologized, that's not really the important part," said Vincent Villano, a spokesman for the DC Chapter of Asian Pacific Americans for Progress. "I think the important part for us is actually working together to do the work that's needed … we believe we have a true commitment from his office to do that."

Villano said there's important work to be done in Ward 8, especially in the cases of some of the stores that do actually live up to Barry's characterization of them as "dirty." 

"A lot of the issues that Council member Barry brought up in his remarks were true to a certain degree regarding what we called quote "dirty Asian shops" and dilapidated buildings," Villano said. "And we are working to set up regular meetings with Council member Barry's office to think about very specific policies to improve those conditions for Asian American owned businesses and really all small businesses in Ward 8."

In his statement, Barry said he was "enlightened by the dialogue," adding he wanted Ward 8 to be a model of diversity and inclusiveness. 

This morning, Barry told the Washington Post that he misspoke and that he should have said "Polish," rather than "Polack." 

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