Two members of the Sustainable Madison Committee (SMC) resigned Wednesday over fellow committee member Denise DeMarb’s remark Monday that they said made a martyr of George Floyd.
Matthew Braunginn and Nada Elmikashfi, both of whom are Black, sent an email to the entire committee Wednesday announcing their resignation.
Braunginn, who also hosts the Madison365 show Finding the Warmth of Our Sun, said DeMarb was trying to make the point that the SMC should be intentionally anti-racist in the way it approaches sustainability.
Braunginn took issue, though, with the way DeMarb made the point: Braunginn said she said “God bless George Floyd,” and that Floyd’s death allowed white people to see and understand racism.
“The implication (was) that white people got better, that he served as a martyr for this country,” Braunginn said in an interview Wednesday. “The martyrdom of Black Americans is very prevalent among particularly white liberals and we see that, I think, in how we celebrate MLK and how a lot of these folks will uphold the whitewashed and martyred idea of Dr. King without actually exploring his radical nature and radical ideology.”
Braunginn called DeMarb’s remark “the typical well meaning white liberal kind of paternalistic type of racism.”
Braunginn said after he made a post on Facebook about the remark, DeMarb called him.
“She called to apologize in a way and it just really rang hollow to me. It rang like somebody that, one, didn’t reflect on what she said before she heard that I was upset,” he said. “She also resorted to it as an individual hurt, in saying sorry she hurt me, without an ability to see a wider level and see as what it was, racist behavior, racist mentality. And I kind of started to say that and I’m like, ‘You’ve got a lot of work to do.’ And she said, ‘I’m trying to do that work. Maybe you could help me.’ And I told her that it’s not for me, I’m not here to do the work for you. You’ve got to do it yourself.”
Later in the meeting, Braunginn said another member, Lance Green, noted that the committee’s antiracist work included making energy-efficient homes accessible to low-income families, which Braunginn said “equated being poor to being Black.”
In their resignation letter, Braunginn and Elmikashfi also noted that no other committee members spoke up in either instance.
“At no point did either of the chairs of this committee stop the meeting to address two clearly racist statements,” the wrote. “It became abundantly clear that if anything was to be said and these issues were to be addressed, it would be incumbent upon one of the four people of color present at the time to address these abhorrent comments.”
The letter also references an earlier incident in which, during an online debate broadcast on Facebook, Alder Tag Evers — also a member of the SMC — mentioned the city’s new sustainability plan. Elmikashfi commented that she did not believe the plan had been completed, and two days later got an email from the committee’s co-chairs.
The email said “in such a public sphere negative comment about the working group process may be counter to all of our SMC efforts and community trust,” Elmikashfi said. “The email came off just really kind of as a reprimand.”
“The chairs did not see any value in reaching out to Nada beforehand to clarify or discuss the Facebook comment, but instead jumped to tone-policing and disrespecting her first amendment right to free speech,” the resignation letter reads. “We have seen this play out often in city politics — when black people speak in a way that challenges, the knee-jerk reaction is to shut them up.”
The resignation letter demands the resignation of DeMarb and Green as well as new policies to address racism in city committees.
Braunginn was appointed to the committee in October of 2019, and Elmikashfi by February of 2020, both by Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway.
Neither DeMarb nor Rhodes-Conway responded to requests for comment.