24 April 2017
Alexia is a hard-working Black woman who has lived an inspirational life full of losses and triumphs. She was born on May 29, 1948 as the second of three children in Los Angeles, California. Her father, a member of the Navy, and her mother, a member of the local school board, got divorced when Alexia was ten years old. Just twelve years later, her mother died of cancer when Alexia was twenty-two. Alexia grew up in a diverse neighborhood and learned about the lives of people from several different cultural and social backgrounds. Living in Los Angeles, she was a witness to the Black Panther Movement and the Watts Riots in her early life. While describing the nature of her hometown, Alexia said, “You’re right there on the fringe of everything ’cause it’s happening all around you in the neighborhood and stuff.” This statement is a perfect illustration of the reason I decided to interview Alexia. She grew up in a large city that was full of diversity and historical movements. She also started off as a Sheriff in Los Angeles, and moved up in the ranks and became a lieutenant by the time she retired. Alexia’s career path was especially pivotal in her advancement as a woman of color in the United States’ white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society. Despite her black skin and her gender, she was able to overcome many obstacles, keep her eye on the prize, and establish herself as a successful and professional woman of color.
After finishing high school, Alexia studied legal secretarial science at Los Angeles City College. Although she has a high school diploma and college credits, she does not actually have a college diploma because she was offered a job through her city college and went into the legal secretarial science field before obtaining a diploma. After working a few jobs as a secretary and stenographer, she chose to work at a bank. Alexia describes:
So I leave that one then I go to Security Bank and they hire me for the legal department there and I am the first Black that they have in the legal department.
Me: First Black at all, or first Black Female?
First Black AT ALL. And this is at their headquarters. So when I go I’m just applying for a position at the bank, but they see that I’ve got–they’re looking at my background and stuff. So the guy at intel tells me, “Okay we’re going to hire you, but we’re going to send you up to interview at this position in the legal department, and you’re not gonna probably get that one, but we’ve been trying to fill it for 6 months, so we send every candidate we get up there. But don’t worry because you’re gonna be hired somewhere…And they hired me.
This moment of being hired was very important for Alexia because it was very rare for Black women to be hired at certain places—there simply were not a lot of Black people in the work field. A lot of women were applying to be stewardesses during that time, and working in the bank wasn’t frequented if you were a woman. Because of Alexia’s legal secretarial and stenography skills, she fit the job description of someone who could type up wills and trust funds for the bank’s customers. She was happy to have this job and she found that she enjoyed working there.
Unfortunately, being a woman of color led to one of the many instances where Alexia was treated unfairly and scrutinized more closely simply because she was Black and female. Alexia showed up on time to work every day, carried out her daily duties, got along with her boss and coworkers, and was efficient in her everyday tasks. Of course, being a competent professional is not always enough in the work field. As described in the Combahee River Collective, “Black feminists and many more Black women who do not define themselves as feminists have all experienced sexual oppression as a constant factor in our day-to-day existence” (Combahee River Collective 2-3). Black women cannot always keep a job or succeed in life solely because they work hard and deserve to have a job. The United States’ white supremacist capitalist patriarchy presents Black women as lazy, incompetent individuals who do not have what it takes to do well in life. Because of these societal views, it is easy for someone to interrogate a Black woman on an issue that she obviously had nothing to do with. Alexia received this treatment while working at Security Bank. She explains:
Had the position, never thought I’d leave it. I was the second Black they’d hired. The first one they fired because you’ve got total freedom, so if you’re not a disciplined person, there’s nobody checking on you, and you just need to get the job done. And we would get the financial statements to tell us how much business each person, each one of our accounts, was giving the bank…
I had a branch over at 18th and La Cienega and it was an ex-military guy and he didn’t like the fact that this young Black girl could just show up–he felt–anytime she wanted to in and out, he had no control over me. And so, one, he had one Black teller and her brother came in there and cashed a bad check and she didn’t cash it for him and I happened to go to lunch with him and was witness to the exchange between them and he got ready to try to fire that girl. And when they interviewed me, I said “No. I heard the whole conversation and she refused to cash the check for her brother ’cause she thought something might be up with it. He went to another teller and the other teller cashed it.” So I said she positively didn’t do it and didn’t know about it and she asked him about it, and I said obviously she knew her brother ’cause that’s exactly what he was doing. But that guy, her boss, once I took a stand and wouldn’t let him fire that girl–and I just basically told the truth. Then he kinda had it in for me. So I get a great evaluation and then, say, 30 days later they call me in and the chick’s saying there’s been some complaints and now she’s got this ‘improvement needed’. And I said, “now how did we go from ‘very good’ to ‘improvement needed.’” And I said, “You know that guy doesn’t like me. And whatever he’s saying, we know what this is.” And I tell her, “You as a female, YOU know what this is.” And she says “well, you know, I’m just having to go through this” and I say “okay” and signed it.”
Because Alexia stood up for her fellow coworker and told the truth, she was targeted by her boss. The boss knew that the teller and Alexia were both right and were telling the truth, but he just wanted one of them to take the fall. When Alexia stood up to him, she presented herself as a strong individual who was not afraid to speak up for herself and for her coworker. This defiance was a sign of power. Alexia’s boss made sure to extinguish that power as fast as he could by decreasing her high ratings on her monthly evaluation.
The way Alexia was treated at Security Bank caused her to seek out better treatment at a different job. When she told her brother about what had happened, he informed her on the job openings that were available to her at the Los Angeles Police Department. Once she decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, she formally resigned from the bank. She described the bank’s reaction to her letter of resignation: https://lmu.box.com/s/sfwf93a19nhsgzz1azljwcuy1nbomlie
So when I put in my papers at the bank they said, “What can we do to keep you here; you’ve been an excellent employee.” And I said, “This was never about money..They’re paying me more money, but I wasn’t looking for money. I loved the job I had. I never thought I’d need this job. But when I needed her to back me up and she knew that this guy just didn’t like me because I’m Black, I’m female, I’m young…I just needed that. And she knows because she’s been through it. So as a female supervisor, I expected you to stand up for me.”
Black women are not discriminated against because of just their race or just their gender—they are discriminated against because of both their race and their gender. The Combahee River Collective Statement describes race and gender further by stating, that “We [Black women] also often find it difficult to separate race from class from sex oppression because in our lives they are most often experienced simultaneously” (Combahee River Collective 4). This injustice should not prohibit Black women from standing up for what is right. Alexia recognized that her reason for being mistreated was a combination of racism and sexism and decided to resign at the bank so that she would not experience it at that particular job again. She took a stand by searching for a new job where she could seek out better treatment.
Upon her decision to apply for a job at the sheriff deputy’s office, Alexia’s brother reassured her that it was worth it because it would pay more than Security Bank. Alexia also told him that she wanted to buy a Mercedes Benz, and her brother told her that he knew some women who worked at the deputy sheriff’s office and that one of them owned a Jaguar. The possibility of owning a nice car and the opportunity of having a stable job was enough to get Alexia to apply… https://lmu.box.com/s/8ek8bux0h1y4x2pm9a4x05pt6igfqw7s
I get a call from the recruiting officer and he says “I noticed your name, this name Vital. Is Gregory Vital a relative of yours?” So I said “Yes, it’s my brother.” And so the guy’s telling me how the marshals had called him and said they had this good candidate, which was my brother and said we’re not gonna hire him because for some reason my boss doesn’t want him, doesn’t like him. So the guy calls me up–and by this time my brother’s gone to work for the fire department because he’s gotten out of the military and he’s taken all the tests–so when the recruiting officer calls me, I said “Listen. I am not my brother.’ And so I said “I don’t have that high intellect like he does. You know, I have to work hard for what grades I get and stuff. It don’t just come naturally to me.” And he says, “Well just come on down and talk to me.” He had an office and had me come meet him there. He said, “I’m going to walk you all through this process and I’m gonna prepare you for it.” And he did.
Alexia’s first impression of the job was already positive, and this man really seemed to want to help her get hired. She appreciated the encouragement and guidance she had already received before even applying to the job.
Once she passed the first step of the application process, Alexia received further aid from the man who had now become her mentor. He made sure to call her individually, congratulate her, and prepare her for the following steps of the application and exams. She recounted the event: https://lmu.box.com/s/83gn32ia4mdr2ssc4mwvgp7myhk7ifpc
I go down and take the test and so he calls up and he says “You know, you’ve passed the written so the next phase, you know, now is the oral interview.” And then he told me what the academy was gonna be like and he said “I’m gonna introduce you to some people that have just gotten out so their gonna mentor and help coach you.” So he was doing that for the Blacks and the females so that we could make it through.
Me: Is this a Black man?
Yeah..the Black recruiting officer and I had no idea….And this is 1973/1974. The police department had been hiring females, but the females didn’t go out into the field or into patrol; the only place they worked were the jails. So now the push is on, things are opening up for women, you know.
Although the majority of the United States does operate under the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, there is still hope in pushing through the mistreatment of people of color and progressing in society. One important thing to remember is that no person of color has to stand alone. There are other people like them and, if those people are willing to help each other, they can overcome the oppressive hold that the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy has on them. There are barriers, “but we must transcend these barriers by moving toward race, class, and gender as categories of connection, by building relationships and coalitions that will bring about social change” (Collins 80). Alexia experienced this transcending of barriers to bring about social change through the mentor/mentee relationship she had with the Black recruiting officer. If that man had not helped her with the application process, she would have had to have figured it all out by herself. Although she probably would have been able to do the work and figure it out, having that man’s support made her feel stronger and made her feel like she could truly succeed in law enforcement. One can succeed by themselves, it is true; but building relationships and coalitions can ease burdens and bring about the same amount of success.
Alexia moved upward in her career in law enforcement and passed her exams and survived the police Academy, despite the uncertainty that others had about her ability to succeed. Many people, including her former coworkers at the bank, did not believe that she would ever acquire the physical stamina that was demanded of you at the police Academy. Alexia ignored the doubts of others—and worked to overcome her own doubts—and ran around the Dorsey High School track field every day in order to build up her endurance for the Academy. She got into shape and passed the Academy. Alexia was hired as the official Female Deputy Sheriff of Sybil Brand Institute (SBI). Before Alexia had been hired, the female police officers were not allowed to go outside on patrol—they had to stay inside the female jails. By the time Alexia came along, the police department work force was changing and women were allowed to go out and patrol. She explained:
Females used to only be able to work the jails and I started with the sheriff’s department in 1974. 1973 was the first year that females were allowed to go out to patrol. So when I come along, the floodgates had opened. All of those women that had been stuck all of those years in those one assignments, the world’s now opened up to them and they can go out.
This was significant because the fact that women were allowed to go out and patrol was a sign that times were changing and progressing, even if it was changing and progressing slowly. Women were now being trusted to handle larger tasks and these women were excited to finally get out of their tedious female jail patrol shifts.
After working at Sybil Brand Institute for six months, Alexia was promoted to the Narcotics field. She did not originally want to work in Narcotics because she knew that it was more dangerous and that it could ultimately cost her her life. When Alexia applied to be a sheriff, she wanted to get a couple years of experience in law enforcement and eventually move on to work in Community Relations, work in the courts, or be a bailiff and make a difference in her community. She decided to interview for the Narcotics job anyway and was hired. She still did not want to work in this field, but soon changed her mind:
I thought that.. if you’re gonna make changes in a community or any place else..and if you’re gonna make a real difference, then Community Relations isn’t the only way you’re going to do that. The real way you’re going to do it is getting these jobs like something like Undercover Narcotics where you can have some control.
Alexia decided to work Narcotics because she understood that she could make a real difference by working in the actual community itself. She discovered that the Narcotics job would allow her to catch the people who were dealing the Narcotics and hopefully get to the root of the problem.
In Alexia’s work in the police force, she—and her other female coworkers—were still treated differently because of their gender. One example is the female sheriff uniform: https://lmu.box.com/s/hme7ixtb2ao6tqq6o7055fe7o8o5bwhr
And when I went to work for the Sheriff’s department, this was important too, at that time, just like at the bank you know, you weren’t allowed to wear pants and stuff. Like I said, I was hired on as female deputy sheriff. We wore heels. When we went out to see the public, you had on heels. You had on your Class A uniform, which back to the stewardess little thing, so the little skirt. You had these heels on because, what is it, men like seeing females’ legs, your leg looks better with the heel. That calf looks better when you’re in a heel than when I’m in a flat shoe. So we could wear a flat shoes working inside the jail, but anytime we’re going out there where the public is gonna be, we’d have to have on the little heels. So these females, when we’re going out to patrol, and I’m out there, I’m out there with this little skirt on, okay. And I didn’t have to have the heels on then because they realized we might have to run. So I’ve got on a flat pair of shoes, but the public is looking at you, ’cause when it comes time for you to hop this fence. Now I’ve got to have on stockings, a girdle–’cause back then they made us wear the girdle–you had to have on a full slip…okay…and then you’re running over there and you’re still trying to be female.
Then you start fighting for things like: “really fellows, we’ve got to have a pair of pants.”
The females’ uniform was literally designed to show off the female body. Despite the fact that the female officers were running and jumping and doing the same amount of physical exercise as men, the department still expected these women to wear heels just because it made their calves look good. They also had to wear skirts and keep a small, womanly shape so that their body would look good to other people when they were out on the streets patrolling. This is just one example of the ways women were treated differently than men in the police department.
Further inequality presented itself through the unequal treatment of men and women in the Los Angeles Police Department. The department was sending mostly men to trainings, which inhibited the women from participating in more jobs around the office because they didn’t have the training. These women were being oppressed because they were denied the proper training that would help them become better police officers. Alexia wanted to change it. She had been in the department for a while and decided to apply for the Lieutenant position so that her only boss would be the captain. She was promoted and, with this position, became an advisory of the board. Alexia founded and was the president of a committee called Women’s Peace Officers. This committee focused on providing the female officers with equal training so that they could participate in the assignments that only men were qualified to do. She illustrated the reasons for the Women’s Peace Officers: https://lmu.box.com/s/3ahazahwtg60ymoa70znfs1p5jng41qh
As president of Women’s Peace Officers, what the Chiefs of Police of Association wanted us to do, and that’s called CPOA. They wanted us to become an umbrella under them. One of the guys said, “Well, you women, just need to get rid of that organization and come on in under CPOA.” And so I said, “Well, you know, that’s why we have our own organization because, had you fellows been treating us right from the beginning, we wouldn’t have had to have started our own.” But it was because we never got the training that you were gonna need in order to get these other assignments. So, one day we may not, there may not be a need for a Women’s Peace Officers Association ’cause you’re telling me how everything’s opening up and you’re gonna be oh-so-fair in the future. Well, so, when that day comes then you can dissolve this organization, but in the meantime, the reason why I am here is because we still have the women out there who can’t get these assignments and they can’t get promoted because in order to get promoted you had to work here or you had to do that. And so the door is closed.” And the one thing I learned when I was at security bank and I was working for that one lone female attorney. Okay, and women are just breaking into those kinds of jobs. The Jonathan Club, the LA Athletic Club, you had all these places that–these are men’s clubs. So this female attorney, she could go to some of these places maybe once a week or once a month they’d open it up, and she could have lunch there with the guys, but if you’re not at the table when the plans are being made, you’re left out, you can’t be part of it. And you can’t be part of it ’cause you’re not allowed there. So what I tell people: you have to be able, if you wanna make change, you’re gonna have to become one of the main players and figure out where you have to be so that you’re there.
Alexia spoke further about the inequality between men and women by explaining how women were never invited to the board meetings or committees that were in charge of making important decisions. She said:
Now, when I was on the Post Advisory Committee, they decided to have California have a memorial service up in Sacramento for slaying peace officers. Okay, so I represented women on that..board. And so what I would do is, I’d say, “Let me see that promotional thing again. Mm. So this is what we’re sending out to all the departments and stuff? Play it one more time. Now let’s see. Saw horses, saw dogs, saw motorcycles, saw cars, saw airplanes and helicopters–what I didn’t see were any females.”
As a woman of color who held a high position in the police department, Alexia was able to advocate for the rights of other women and for people of color. When she was given a list of the people who were supposed to attend trainings, she noticed that there were very few women or people of color on there. To solve this problem, she told her counterparts to send her a list of everyone in the department and sent a mixture of men, women, and people of color to attend the trainings so that there would be an equal distribution of knowledge and adequacy throughout the police department.
One feminist movement that Alexia saw during her career in the police force was when women were able to testify against the men who were physically attacking them and send them to jail. Although women often reported the abuse they were receiving from men, the upholders of the law did not always do anything to help them. In the event of domestic abuse, “Our responses too often fail to support battered women’s rights to bodily integrity…our responses embolden abusers while reinforcing women’s second-class position in society” (Flavin 166). Once the law required abusers to be sent to jail once they were accused of violence, the officers in the police department started arresting several men who had gotten away with their violent acts in the past. Alexia recounts that the closest she came to a feminist movement was when the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed:
What is it, in 1993 when they passed the law that pretty much said that men would be going to jail if they were beating on these women and striking them. I can tell you that, even being in law enforcement, I have been places where you’re looking at the wife–and don’t let both parties have been in law enforcement–
You’re looking at her eye and you’re saying hmm, and then she says “He hit me.” Okay, so now women are being a little more empowered. Well, we know that after ’93 that she ain’t had to worry about him hitting her again. ‘Cause see now he laid hands on, that job gon be gone. Okay. There’s no covering it up. There’s no trying to talk to her or anything else saying and that what they used to do with domestic violence in women.
This feminist issue was starting to see a resolution because the government was finally beginning to treat domestic abuse as an actual crime. The white supremacist capitalist patriarchy had finally started to take women’s issues seriously. The Violence Against Women Act would not have been passed without the work of the feminists and activists who protested and educated others about the large amount of women who were suffering in silence from domestic abuse. These feminists knew the truth and strived to spread this truth to the rest of the United States. When you know the truth, “it is necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth” (Lorde 43). The work of feminist movements have helped our country grow. Alexia recognizes the work that feminists put in and identifies with it. She is a strong advocate for women’s rights and she is happy to know that the younger generations are just as passionate about those rights. Campaigning for social change requires people’s willingness to listen to the words of marginalized people, and it requires the progressive movement toward that change.
Alexia recounted her life story and explained that she overcame a lot of oppression in order to get to where she is today. She rose above the white supremacist capitalist patriarchal society and became a Sheriff to support herself, was promoted to Lieutenant, and did not give up on herself or give in to others’ attempts to take away her power.
Minorities, women or just life in general and people, I’ve had people tell me before that “well, we didn’t say anything bad about you.” And I said, “No, you didn’t. You didn’t join into the conversation when they were bad-mouthing me. But what you also didn’t do was you didn’t stand up for me. You didn’t say ‘that’s BS and you know it’s BS’.” You know. And I said, (28:52) “See, you think that you’re one of the boys…and you are their friend and everything is fine until jobs get real tight and cuts have to be made. And then we’re going to see…see when it gets tight like that, then that’s when you’re going to know that you’re a minority. ‘Cause see they’re going to let you know then.” But you know, sometimes you make it in spite of them. And sometimes, you know I tell people all the time, “Okay, so you weren’t able to come through the front door. You came through the back. You got in.” And that..So sometimes you have to keep your eye on the prize. Gettin’ in so that you can work to change some of that other stuff.
Alexia truly did keep her eye on the prize despite every obstacle that was thrown in her way. Through her relationship with her family and her mentor, she was able to accept her losses and not let them get her down. She was mistreated at the bank, but she did not stay there and let herself continue to be mistreated. She and other females were not treated equally in the police department, but she conquered that inequality and started a committee that ensured that the female officers were treated as equal counterparts to the men.
As a Black female, I am truly inspired by Alexia’s life. I identify with a lot of her life experiences and I take refuge in her movements toward equality. Simply put, her life gives me hope. She has shown me that it is easy to buckle under the weight of racism and sexism. The hard thing to do is to build up your stamina, bear that weight, and use it to stimulate you as you move forward and work towards social change. I want to challenge myself to do the hard thing and progress in society. Alexia is just one of the many black women—some of them my family members—who has given me insight into the professional world and taught me that change is possible.
In conclusion, Alexia’s life as a Black woman has been full of ups and downs, but she has become a great inspiration to me and to the women around her. Alexia summarized one of the major lessons she has received and taught while living on this earth:
That empowerment that I got out of being a female and about being Black and female. And whether it’s law enforcement or other things, if you’re in those power positions, people come to you and you have to understand various cultures.
Not only did Alexia work towards understanding various cultures, she also worked towards helping other people understand her culture. She believed that social change could come from people’s education and acceptance of the lives of others. Alexia truly did keep her eye on the prize, and that prize was the worldwide benefit that would come from social change.