Wal-Mart Image-Builder Resigns
By MICHAEL BARBARO and STEVEN GREENHOUSE
Published: August 18, 2006
The civil rights leader Andrew Young, who was hired by Wal-Mart to improve its public image, resigned from that post last night after telling an African-American newspaper that Jewish, Arab and Korean shop owners had “ripped off” urban communities for years, “selling us stale bread, and bad meat and wilted vegetables.
In the interview, published yesterday in The Los Angeles Sentinel, a weekly, Mr. Young said that Wal-Mart “should” displace mom-and-pop stores in urban neighborhoods.
“You see those are the people who have been overcharging us,” he said of the owners of the small stores, “and they sold out and moved to Florida. I think they’ve ripped off our communities enough. First it was Jews, then it was Koreans and now it’s Arabs.”
Mr. Young, 74, a former mayor of Atlanta and a former United States representative to the United Nations, apologized for the comments and retracted them in an interview last night. Less than an hour later, he resigned as chairman of Working Families for Wal-Mart, a group created and financed by the company to trumpet its accomplishments.
“It’s against everything I ever thought in my life,” Mr. Young said. “It never should have been said. I was speaking in the context of Atlanta, and that does not work in New York or Los Angeles.”
His remarks drew forceful condemnation from Arab, Jewish and Asian leaders.
The national director of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham H. Foxman, called the comments “very hurtful.”
“The sad part,” he said, is that “even people of color and even minorities who suffered discrimination and prejudice are not immune from being bigoted and racist and even anti-Semitic.”
In the six months that Mr. Young was under contract with the Wal-Mart-financed group, he traveled the country promoting the retailer, meeting with community groups and writing opinion pieces for local newspapers.
“I am more of a spokesman than the chairman of Wal-Mart,” he remarked, referring to his work on behalf of the company.
Wal-Mart executives moved quickly last night to distance themselves from Mr. Young’s remarks. “Ambassador Young’s comments do not reflect our feelings toward the Jewish, Asian or Arab communities or any other diverse group,” a company spokeswoman, Mona Williams, said.
“Needless to say, we were appalled when the comments came to our attention,” Ms. Williams said. “We were also dismayed that they would come from someone who has worked so hard for so many years for equal rights in this country. Ambassador Young has done the right thing to apologize and to ask for a retraction. We also support his decision to resign.”
Margaret Fung, executive director of the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, said, “Andrew Young should know better than to resort to derogatory ethnic stereotypes about Korean storeowners in black neighborhoods.”
Khaled Lamada, former president of the Arab Muslim American Federation and currently director of outreach for the Muslim American Society, said that Mr. Young’s statements were “not fair” and that they “shame” the Muslim community.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said “these are stereotypical remarks that any leader of the civil rights movement should run away from rather than utter.”
Explaining his comments about Koreans, Jews and Arabs, Mr. Young said he was referring to the history of retail ownership in the neighborhood where he lives in southwestern Atlanta.
“Almost everyone who has come into my community has moved in, made money and moved out and moved up,” he said. “That process is still continuing.”
Over the last two years, Wal-Mart efforts to open stores in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York have been blocked. Because of Mr. Young’s background, Wal-Mart had looked to him to ease its entry into such cities.
“The only thing I can do,” Mr. Young said last night before he resigned, “is to ask that people judge me about a life of working together with people who are different and bringing people together without violence and without rancor. I would hope that would count for something.”
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Friday, August 18, 2006
Wal-Mart Image-Builder Resigns