I was impressed by Tim White’s recent editorial in the Fayetteville Observer. The focus of his article is Fayetteville’s current struggle over their city seal, which prominently features Market House. Market House, a National Landmark built in 1832, housed the town hall on its second floor while “meat and produce and other goods were sold beneath.” “Other goods” included people. Slaves. In “Our dramatic failure of empathy,” White outlines the subtle and not-so-subtle racism we still promulgate. As he notes, “The dye of segregated thinking is all over [the current debate on the seal’s content].”
Here’s a look at Fayetteville’s seal. Its central feature is Market House, which remains a symbol of slavery for many Fayetteville citizens.
Image from wncn.com
Even Fayetteville’s hometown song, played while city hall callers waited on hold (and is no longer used), includes references to cotton and Market House. I checked out Visit NC, where this statement caught my attention: “Occasionally slaves were sold at Market Square and the vast majority of these sales were as a result of indebtedness or estate liquidation.” I take that to mean that it was OK to sell slaves if you were losing money.
Tim White asks some hard questions. “So why can’t we white folks understand that for many of our black neighbors, using the Market House on our city logo is like slapping them in the face?” He asks why we don’t see the “insulting, paternalistic, rude and-just maybe- unconsciously racist” basis of denial. Finally, to look at this strictly from a economic point of view, White asks why a business would “doggedly insist on using a logo that is knew caused pain and even revulsion in at least a quarter, maybe more, of its customers.”
I appreciate White’s heartfelt and well-written attempt to breathe truth and compassion into this debate. He builds his case on historical data, research on hidden biases (such as The Implicit Assumption Test), and his own interviews with people whose relatives were sold at the Market House. He even appeals to our capitalistic bottom line.
Fayetteville is not unique in its struggle. In every city and state, in every classroom and boardroom, we are confronted with the poisoned fruit of slavery. As overwhelming as it feels, let us do for one what we want to do for all. (Thank you, Kendrick Vinar.) As White concludes, “Let’s not fail.”