STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
It's time again for The Race Card Project, where six words are the starting point for conversations about race and cultural identity. Today and tomorrow, we're exploring six words from a man who lives on the West Coast.
MARK A. QUARLES: My name is Mark A. Quarles. I'm from Pacific Grove, California. And my six words are - with kids, I'm dad, alone, thug.
INSKEEP: Those words again - with kids, I'm dad, alone, thug. That's what Marc Quarles says. Here's the back story to his six words.
QUARLES: I'm African-American. My wife is German. We have two children - a son, 15, and a daughter, 13. We live in a predominantly white, affluent area on the Monterey Peninsula in California. Every summer, my wife and children go to Germany to visit her parents. So, consequently, I spend the summers alone. During the summer, when I am alone, I'm treated very differently. And most of the time, I've noticed my white counterparts almost avoid me. They seem afraid.
INSKEEP: That was Marc Quarles, who recently shared his six word story and more with NPR's Michele Norris, who is founder of The Race Card Project.
QUARLES: Not a whole lot happens in Pacific Grove, California. So I think most people do wonder what is this guy up to?
MICHELE NORRIS, BYLINE: What is this black guy up to?
QUARLES: Yes, what is this black guy up to? That's what they wonder. Why is he here and what is he doing? And why is he in my nice, affluent neighborhood? We moved here to sort of get away from guys like him.
NORRIS: Are there many guys like you in your nice, affluent neighborhood in Pacific Grove, California?
QUARLES: Well, the number on the sign changes when I drive in and out. There aren't a whole lot of African-American males in Pacific Grove.
NORRIS: You know, watching you talk about this and listening to you talk about this it appears that the assumptions made about you really sting.
QUARLES: Oh, absolutely because I have a very decent job. I would take care of most of these people if they came to my hospital. And to assume that I...
NORRIS: You work there as an ultrasound technician?
QUARLES: Yes, ma'am, and to assume that I'm anything less than a productive member of the community - that does hurt. It stings and bites.
NORRIS: What would your neighbors think? I imagine that a lot of people in Pacific Grove, California, listen to NPR and our wonderful constellation of stations in Northern California. And when they hear this and think oh, they're talking about my neighborhood, what do you think they'll think about hearing about your story?
QUARLES: Well, I hope they take a moment to think and just, sort of, embrace their neighbors and not fear their neighbors. When we purchased our second home, there was a rather interesting incident where we had been in the home for maybe two days and the police knocked on the door, and they were looking for a purse.
NORRIS: A missing purse in the neighborhood.
QUARLES: Yes (laughter).
NORRIS: Not a missing person but a missing purse, OK.
QUARLES: (Laughter) Yes, not a missing person, but a missing purse. And the officer rang the bell - I went down. And the officer said well, we want to know if you've noticed anything suspicious in the neighborhood, and I said, like what? And he said well, the woman across the street is missing her purse. And I looked at him and I said so you can come in and look for it if you'd like, but no, I didn't take the purse. You know, the interesting thing about that is a couple days later - pulled in and parked my car in my driveway. And the gentleman said hey, Marc, hey, Marc, I'm really sorry about the other day. I meant, what do you mean? And he said well, the police went over to your house. And I'm like, you sent the police to my house? And he said well, you know, we found my mother-in-law's purse. She usually puts it on this shelf, but she didn't put it there that day and we found the purse in the house. And I said, OK, well, that's good. Well, then the gentleman - then he looked at me and said well, where are you from? And I said I'm from here, Pacific Grove. And he said, no really, where did you move from before you moved here to this house? And I said, well, we have another house about a mile and a half from here. We moved from that house to this house. And then he looked at me again and he said, well, you have two houses? And I said, yes, sir. And again, you get the look from head to toe, head to toe. Well, what do you do? And part of me - sometimes, I mess with these people. I'll tell them, well, I sell drugs and I'm a pimp. I can get you anything you want. And he looked at me...
NORRIS: You've said that to someone before?
QUARLES: Yes, I say it deadpan serious, you know?
NORRIS: So do they say, OK, you got me, or are they still slightly terrified by the idea...
NORRIS: ...Of a pimp and a drug dealer moved in next door to them.
QUARLES: Yeah, well, I think once I say I'm a pimp and a drug dealer and start laughing and then they look at me, then once they see the crazy hours that I work and they see me in my hospital scrubs, then they clearly know I'm not a pimp and a drug dealer. I'm just a regular old hospital worker.
NORRIS: Have you developed a relationship with that neighbor now? Do you consider him a friend?
QUARLES: Yes, I do. And we have developed a relationship, yes.
INSKEEP: That's Marc Quarles talking with NPR's Michele Norris for The Race Card Project. Now, elsewhere in this morning's program, we hear more from Marc Quarles about how his appearance draws unwelcome looks.
NORRIS: Do the dreadlocks play a role in this?
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.