Black Stories Matter: Local Leader Talks Tokenism, Microaggressions, and Systemic Racism
A few summers ago, Morris “Rippy” Patton was walking home from a Bristol Blues baseball game. He stopped at a local bar with his friend to grab a beer.
“We walk in, I get to the bar, and some random white guy, sitting right there next to me goes, ‘We don’t like to serve Black people here.’ He had no shame about it. It wasn’t quiet,” Rippy said.
He said everyone in the bar heard it; still, the man held no remorse. In that same city of Bristol, Conn., where Rippy often falls victim to racist remarks, he’s a leader.
Rippy’s currently the first Black person to serve as Chair of the Bristol Democratic Committee. He’s also the 3rd Vice President and Communications Chair of the NAACP and President of his daughter’s school PTA. Not to mention he serves on multiple boards: For Goodness Sake, The American Clock & Watch Museum, Bristol Edition, and The Bristol Exchange Club.
In many instances, Rippy is the only Black man in these leadership positions. While some claim this as tokenism, he explains why it’s not.
“Here’s the thing: someone has to do it. There are these different boards and commissions. And I think 90%, at least of the offers that I’ve gotten to serve on a particular board or commission, they’re all done with good intentions.”
He said it’s hard to be the only Black person in a room, but someone has to step up. In Bristol, Rippy is that someone.
“Trust me, I’m far from a martyr. I know that it was very specific when I decided to become more involved and jump in. Part of the reasoning was so that other people, who were non-white, can go ‘Omg, Rippy’s on what board? What commission? You’re running for city council? We’ve never been in those seats before. I would feel so uncomfortable doing that,’” Rippy said.
Rippy may be the first non-white person to serve on most of these boards, but he certainly won’t be the last.
Rippy is a single dad to 13-year-old Camryn. Camryn is a lot like her father in the sense that she’s extremely active. While Rippy has worked hard to protect his daughter from racism, she’s endured microaggressions.
“It’s tough knowing that she has brown skin, and she’s a little girl,” Rippy said.
One particular instance happened in the classroom.
“This year, she had a real problem with a particular teacher, who never would call her by her name,” Rippy said.
Camryn and her cousin, Peyton, were in the same class. They two are very close but look nothing alike. However, Rippy said Camyrn’s teacher referred to them both as “Peyton,” never acknowledging Camryn by her real name.
“I said something to her like, ‘Just so you know, it really bothers my daughter that we are now four months into the school year and you still don’t know her name. You’re always calling her by the wrong name,” Rippy said, “She started laughing and was like, ‘Oh, that’s right. She’s the one I always call Peyton. I can’t tell them apart.’”
Although this teacher brushed this instance off as a funny mistake, it’s frustrating for Rippy and Camryn.
“And I really wanted to shake and go, ‘You can’t tell them apart because they’re the only two brown kids in your class,’” Rippy said.
Assuming all non-white people look-alike is a far-too common microaggression — one that stems directly from systemic racism and a lack of understanding of what Black people endure.
“One thing that the white community has never understood is the trauma that’s associated with having to have something on your back for so long. You carry that,” Rippy said.
Rippy remembers the first time he realized his skin color made him different. He was in fourth grade, flipping through a magazine and saw an image of Emmett Till in an open casket. Emmett Till was 14 years old when he was lynched after being accused of offending a white woman.
“I was afraid to look at my teacher. My teacher was Ms. Hyde. Fourth grade, the only Black kid there. I used to go to school and focus on not making eye contact with her because I understood she had the power, not that she would, but what could happen to me if I make eye contact with her and she doesn’t like the way I looked at her? I could be Emmett Till,” Rippy said.
Rippy said what he learned in the classroom about his people’s past was much different than what he learned at home.
“People say we’re the same, but I was being taught something else at home,” Rippy said.
Now, as we work to abolish racism, Rippy said it’s vital that we don’t teach kids we’re all the same.
“Let’s teach diversity and that it’s okay if someone isn’t anything like you. We’re not the same. We’re completely different, but if we treat each other the same and respect each other the same regardless of those differences, then we don’t have this problem,” Rippy said.
Acknowledging the history of racism and the trauma that comes with being born non-white is more far more productive than pretending we are all the same.
“You’re not born Black, and you get a handbook that says ‘Hey, this is the stuff you’re going to go through, these are the resources for you. These are the books you should read to learn about your history.’ You get curious on your own.”
Despite America’s dark history and current climate, Rippy said he feels like we’re on a better path.
“I’m personally very encouraged right now, probably more than I’ve ever been.”