Airing dirty laundry is never a pleasant thing. However a recent anti-Asian comment by Marion S. Barry, Jr., Councilman for Ward Eight of the City Council of the District of Columbia, must be brought to light so it can be condemned. Barry is not only an elected official in our Nation's capital city, he is the former Mayor of that city. His star has fallen following a string of scandals. But he continues to be welcomed in many progressive circles. That needs to end.
Airing dirty laundry is never a pleasant thing. However a recent anti-Asian comment by Marion S. Barry, Jr., Councilman for Ward Eight of the City Council of the District of Columbia, must be brought to light so it can be condemned. Barry is not only an elected official in our Nation's capital city, he is the former Mayor of that city. His star has fallen following a string of scandals. But he continues to be welcomed in many progressive circles. With his most recent atrocious remarks, Barry's welcome mat needs to get pulled.
The history of racism in this country is a complex one. Predominant, of course, is the legacy of slavery suffered by African-Americans, the consequences of which remain with us today. However the record includes at one time or another acts of bigotry towards many other ethnic or racial groups. Mexican-Americans, for example, suffered their own version of Jim Crow throughout the southwest and these attitudes color the current immigration debate. Asian Americans, for example the Chinese, had exclusionary laws placed on their immigration. Japanese American US citizens were stripped of their rights and confined to concentration camps during WW2. Jews had quotas on their admission to major universities. Irish and Italian immigrants suffered religious and ethnic bigotry.
In light of this past, although the Civil Rights Movement and the laws that were a consequence of it owe a great debt to the struggles and sacrifices of African Americans, these legal protections apply to all Americans. The reason is something well understood by civil rights veterans - the darkness of bigotry can affect any human heart.
So what are we to make of these remarks by former DC Mayor and current councilman Marion Barry?
“We got to do something about these Asians coming in and opening up businesses and dirty shops,” Barry said on Tuesday night, according to video posted by WRC-TV/NBC4. “They ought to go. I’m going to say that right now. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”
Current DC Mayor Vincent Gray appeared to immediately distance himself from these remarks. But that is not enough.
There is a sad reality that many times elected officials "of color" are given a pass when they do or say something that would get a "white" official in deep water. Minorities, having suffered the brunt of double standards for most of U.S. history, should be well aware of how they can be harmful both ways.
However many times minority elected officials will play off a misplaced sense of group solidarity to get away with things that are inexcusable. Barry is a past master of this, but of course he is not the only one. U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez (D-CA) made some terrible remarks in the 2010 election season, basically attempting to stir up her Hispanic voter base and pit them against the Vietnamese. In my opinion, Sanchez was not properly called out on this:
It was hard to write a diary like that on Sanchez. I am also Hispanic and remembered with pride her defeats of the execrable Robert Dornan (R-CA). But what she said should not be excused.
Double standards on condemning bigotry will poison the atmosphere in this country. They will hold back progress in building a true society of justice and equal opportunity.
Some will shrug their shoulders and say we should let this pass. They will say Barry is an old man, in the twilight of his career. That we don't want to detract from other pressing issues.
That sort of attitude constitutes, in my opinion, a wink and a nod. By not treating Barry like we would any other elected official, we are in effect patronizing both him and the community he represents. And it tells everyone else, including people who are suspicious of civil rights as a "spoils system," that double standards indeed exist.