Martine Watkins, vice mayor of Santa Cruz, is perplexed. She is biracial — her father is Black, her mother white — and she was the first biracial woman to serve as the mayor of Santa Cruz. She thinks it’s a misrepresentation of local history to call Justin Cummings — who is currently a candidate for District 3 county supervisor — the first Black mayor of Santa Cruz.
Have something to say? Lookout welcomes letters to the editor, within our policies, from readers. Guidelines here.
My biracial identity is something I’ve lived with my whole life, yet I had no idea how perplexing and public my identity would be for others when I decided to run for office.
Since the day I announced I was running, I’ve heard news sources, prominent leaders and, sadly, close colleagues gloss over my ethnicity and background. Now, I hear them referring to my successive colleague (Justin Cummings) as the “first Black mayor of Santa Cruz.”
By doing so, they are misrepresenting history.
This error undermines my history, and the history that was made in the City of Santa Cruz when I was elected as the first biracial Black woman to the city council and then to serve as mayor.
Too often history is incorrectly written. And in this case, we not only miss opportunities to discuss the complexities of race, we perpetuate colorism through simplified narratives.
For the record: My father made history in 2006, when he became the state’s first Black elected county superintendent of schools. My grandfather, his father, attempted to serve in the U.S. Navy in the early 1940s, but got denied because he was Black. My parents were an interracial couple in a time when it was hard, dangerous and, let’s say, simply less accepted than now. I come from educators and civic servants of different races.
My parents’ history is my history, and my identity.
In a progressive community like ours, I can’t imagine those who’ve self-identified as “progressives” not believing in interracial marriages, nor for people to have the freedom to marry the partner they choose. These unions often result in children of mixed races. Like me.
So then what? Are they dismissed if they aren’t Black enough to be labeled Black? In my local high school, an English teacher returned a paper I had written about James Baldwin back with my words “as a biracial Black woman” circled in red with the comment “as a WHAT?!”
My brother, with darker skin, had and continues to have different experiences as a biracial Black man. Race is an artificial construct, and yet it has profound and complex implications and consequences.
I would never equate my experience as a biracial woman with lighter skin to that of a dark-skinned woman, man or person walking this earth. Ever. I know it is harder for them. Skin color leads, regardless of the borders that divide us. But that doesn’t invalidate my identity as the first biracial Black woman elected to the Santa Cruz City Council and to serve as mayor.
I’m grateful for those who’ve paved the way for me to be in this position, and to the community for wanting to get the facts right.
Martine Watkins is a senior community organizer for the Santa Cruz County Office of Education. She has served on the Santa Cruz City Council since 2016, serving as both mayor and (currently) as vice mayor. She has lived in Santa Cruz since she was 2 months old.