Two members of Madison’s Sustainable Committee resigned in response to comments made by committee member Denise DeMarb regarding the death of George Floyd this past Wednesday.
In their letter of resignation, Matthew Braunginn and Nada Elmikashfi stated that DeMarbs' comments painted a false image of America’s racial landscape and were also dehumanizing to Floyd, who was killed by police last May.
During a meeting of Madison’s Sustainable Committee, DeMarb praised Floyd as a martyr saying, “God Bless George Floyd” before commenting that Floyd “awoke white people to racism in this country.”
“The very idea of George Floyd’s death somehow shook white people awake is a lie in itself,” they wrote. “It also dehumanizes him, it makes him a martyr for white people to become better, to drop the project of whiteness.”
Braunginn and Elmikashfi also brought attention to comments made by Lance Green, another committee member, who they feel made similarly insensitive comments. According to Braunginn and Elmikashfi, Green equated poverty to Blackness “by saying making energy-efficient homes more accessible to low-income people is anti-racist work.”
Braunginn stated that DeMarb’s and Green's comments are reflective of “the typical well meaning white liberal kind of paternalistic type of racism,” in an interview with Madison365.
In their letter of resignation, Braunginn and Elmikashfi demanded resignation of both Green and DeMarb as well as the committee co-chairs: Jessica LeClair and Jeannette LeZak, who they believe had the responsibility of addressing the racist remark. Additional demands include committee reform such as guidelines for addressing racism, a safe place to report racism and strong accountability mechanisms for racist remarks.
Braunginn and Elmikashfi stated in their resignation that they do not believe the city will readily take action to implement additional measures that combat racism in city politics.
“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,” Braunginn and Elmikashfi stated in their resignation letter.
DeMarb responded to the resignation by apologizing for the impact that her statements had on her fellow committee members.
“My words caused harm and had a horrible, negative impact regardless of my intention,” DeMarb stated in an interview with the Cap Times. “I am committed to being an antiracist and to be an ally and this is a huge example of the work that I’ve yet to do.”
Braunginn rejected DeMarb’s apology, claiming that she seemed to be insincere in her commitment to anti-racism.
“Sorry she hurt me, without an ability to see a wider level and see it as what it was, racist behavior, racist mentality,” Braunginn said. “You’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Green voiced his surprise with Braunginn and Elmikashfi resignations, and stated that he believed that he was on good terms with his committee members prior to their departure.
“I was really sad because this committee, I felt, has always been a circle of people volunteering to improve Madison and we may have had some differences of opinions about things,” Green said in an interview with Madison.com. “But we always tried to assume good intent and not attack each other as individuals.”
Heather Driscoll, another committee member, offered an apology on behalf of herself and other white members who did not address the comments made by DeMarb and Green.
“Other white members should have spoken up rather than wait for BIPOC members of our committee to do the work, but no one addressed it at the meeting,” Driscoll said. “I'm very sorry to Matthew and Nada and others that I did not speak up in the moment. I plan to do better in the future."