As a black American, husband, father and Republican-endorsed candidate for Congress in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District, I’d like to share a message of hope with our state and nation in this time of despair.
I spent my early childhood in Harlem in the late 1960s. I witnessed needless violence and destruction. I witnessed a cycle of brokenness in the lives of family and friends that continues to this day. My wife and I chose a different path for our family. We haven’t forgotten where we’ve come from. We’ve sought to serve the black community to improve the lives of children and strengthen marriages.
Sheila and I have been married 34 years. We have five children, one adopted. I’m sharing below a heartfelt letter Sheila wrote to our three sons regarding the tragic death of George Floyd.
– Kendall Qualls
Even though you’ve heard this before, I can’t risk leaving a stone unturned. Your lives are too precious to me. I’m writing to tell you the truth about racism after the tragic, unjustifiable death of George Floyd.
I’m heartbroken not only for his family but also for you. As I watched him cry for help and saw him struggle to breathe, I couldn’t help but think that it could have been you.
Was it injustice? No doubt. Was it because he was black? If a white man had been arrested for allegedly trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill, he’d most likely still be alive today. So I feel compelled to remind you that skin color matters.
I fear you’ll think I’ve been naive or played a cruel joke by duping you into believing your outer layer doesn’t matter. Skin color matters and I struggle with feeding you the narrative that it doesn’t.
I want to tell you the truth about racism after the death of George Floyd.
I’ve never pretended it doesn’t exist. I’ve felt its sting. I’ve been trailed through stores. Shop owners have asked to search my purse. Tellers have eyed me with suspicion when I’ve withdrawn my own money from the bank. I know humiliation.
But here’s the truth: You can’t let the actions of a few color your view of the world. George Floyd’s death was unjust, tragic and unnecessary. But I don’t believe most people are racist.
There will always be an element that wants to harm you. You could fall victim to senseless violence. For that, I’m so sorry. I’m sorry you’ll have to work so hard to prove your intelligence and worth — perhaps even your humanity — because of the black skin that houses your intellects and hearts. I’m sorry you may feel your preparation for life as black men has been inadequate.
We coached you on society’s unwritten rules for black men: What you should and shouldn’t wear, how to treat others, how to act with dignity and how to speak confidently.
You accused us of trying to “control your lives.” Our instructions, dear sons, were for a time such as this.
Despite our country’s history, we’ve taught you to assume the best of people. I’ve quelled my doubts and encouraged you to look deeper than color.
But how can I continue to tell you race doesn’t matter after the death of George Floyd? How can I tell you race doesn’t matter when you’ve been repeatedly pulled over by police who are “randomly” checking vehicles in the predominantly white areas where we’ve lived?
Even though you’ve faced little discrimination in your short lives, you’re not immune to it. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are.
I fear you could become a hashtag, your name a symbol of injustice. It doesn’t matter that you’re from a two-parent, middle-class family. It doesn’t matter that you’re articulate and educated, because the first thing people see is the color of your skin.
Yet, regardless of the poor behavior of a few, all white people aren’t the enemy. Don’t let anyone try to convince you they are. It’s not true. For the few times I’ve felt discrimination, I can tell you of hundreds of other times when white people have been loving, fair-minded and generous with me.
Know history, but don’t let it cripple you. A victim mentality will poison your minds.
I wish I could return you to the safety of the womb. But I can’t. This is your experience. Sifting through the confusion and anger may hurt. Use my wisdom as an ointment to calm the irritation. But make no mistake about where I stand.
First, you are responsible for yourselves, your families and your community.
Second, you are bound by the rules of society and the law, which I know you’ll respect. I’ve raised you to be men of character and integrity.
Most police officers want to help you. If they pull you over, respect them. They deserve it.
Comply with their wishes and pray all goes well. If it doesn’t, I hope I’ve armed you with the tools to fight ignorance with grace.
Your father and I believe America is the best place in the world for you. As you transition into adulthood, you’ll have an opportunity to be beacons of hope and examples of what is best about America by treating everyone — regardless of race, social stature or religious affiliation — with respect, compassion and dignity.
Judge others by their character, not by their color. For those who can’t see past your skin color, it’s their loss. Those who look deeper will see what I see. I couldn’t be prouder of the men you’re becoming. So allow others to see the fullness of America by being the best you can be.
Kendall Qualls is the endorsed Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in Minnesota’s Third Congressional District. Sheila Qualls is a speaker, coach and blogger on the subject of marriage.