Paul R. Lehman, Vashina Butler, Oklahoma pioneer, hero, captain

June 28, 2011 at 8:39 pm | Posted in American Racism, Ethnicity in America, Race in America | 2 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The headlines of a recent edition of  The Oklahoman read “Police promote first
black female captain.” In smaller letters on another page the headlines read “Black
woman becomes 1st promoted to captain.” The article noted that “Vashina
Butler recently became the first African American woman promoted to the rank of
captain in the Oklahoma City Police Department. Butler, a 20-year veteran of
the force, said her promotion is a testament to those who laid the groundwork
for diversity in the department.” After twenty years of hard work, dedication,
and diligence, what did anyone expect her to say, that she should have made
captain years ago? That kind of statement would have made her seem like an
ingrate. Actually, for any African American holding the title of the first, a
number of things had to happen: preparation, perseverance, and propriety.

Being first is quite different from being number one. When
someone is number one that means that there was a previous number one. Being
the first means that  a precedent is set—there
was no one before. One would think that the need for a headline in 2011,announcing
the promotion of an African American woman to a position in a police department
would no longer be necessary. Unfortunately, the headlines indicate just how
slow and deliberate justice and opportunity can be. The reference to justice
has to do with the fact that American is and has been a society biased against
African Americans, therefore, when one lays claim to a first, it becomes headline
news to show the world that the city is not as biased as it used to be. Being
the first African American generally, in a positive area, means years of preparation,
not for a position, just for a job. One only has to look at the late Jackie
Robinson, for example, and many other African Americans to understand some of
the prep work needed to simply get recognized.

Ms. Butler, however, describes her experiences on the job.
She began as a 21-year-old college graduate who applied to the Oklahoma City
Police Department in 1990. She adds that “Reaching the rank of captain is no
easy task. Lieutenants who want to be captains get a chance to take a written
test every two years.” Passing the test is not enough to qualify; she continues
“ The top 15 candidates based on test scores and seniority move on to an
exhaustive, multistage review process that includes critiques from high ranking
officers from other departments and that further narrows the list.” One can see
how important preparation is for simply qualifying for promotion in the
department, preparation in a variety of areas.

No one gives an African American the claim to being the
first simply because one is qualified and prepared. Ms. Butler notes that along
with being prepared comes perseverance: “The top candidates then have to hope
at least one of the 30 or so captain positions comes open.” The article notes
that Butler took the captain’s test four times: “The first three times, she was
among the top 10 candidates, but not enough spots opened up.”The ability to
face reality in its many forms shows strength in the character of the one who perseveres.
Ms. Butler can evidently serves as an example of such a strong person.

Learning of Ms. Butler’s courage and strength to prepare and
persevere on her journey, one wonders why it take so long for social progress
to keep pace with equity. Too often, the public wants to praise the individual
African American for an accomplishment in becoming the first. In reality, what
the African American should be praised for is having been prepared and ready to
take advantage of the opportunity to step into the position. If the headline is
recalled, it states “Police promotes first black female captain.” In other
words, regardless of how qualified and prepared Ms. Butler was, she had to wait
until the police department decided to promote her to captain; she could not do
it herself. The police department should be asked what took them so long to
make their decision.  They  cannot use the argument of the candidate not
being qualified or prepared for the rank. Nonetheless, the department wants to
get credit for taking its time to grant a promoting to an African American
woman. At the same time, the public want to praise the candidate for being the
first when she was simply waiting for the opportunity for others to act in her

Is it not interesting that today we celebrate the
achievement of ethnic Americans because they have been finally allowed to
participate in society at a level where they were previously prevented from
doing so, and when they are recognized for finally being allowed to step up,
society pat itself on the back and feel pride in shedding another remnant of
bigotry? All of our hats should go off to Ms. Butler for having the strength of
character, endurance, and patience for putting up with all the challenges she
endured to finally reach her destination. Now she must endure even more scrutiny
in her new role because she serves not only as a positive role model to young
African American women but also as a symbol of a society very slow in
recognizing the value of all human being regardless of their color.

Ms. Butler is not just the first African American woman
promoted to captain by the Oklahoma City Police Department, she is an Oklahoma
hero and pioneer.



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  1. Congratulations to Ms Butler. May she be the first of many!

  2. Even Oklahoma can make strides in promoting minorities ~ it’s long, long overdue.

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