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Race Card Project: With Dreadlocks, Come Assumptions


Sometimes you're just talking to a guy and he says the most astounding things - just in passing. Our colleague Michele Norris brings us those kinds of conversations in the Race Card Project, which start with six words, like these six words from Marc Quarles of Pacific Grove, California - with kids, I'm dad. Alone? Thug. Elsewhere in the program today, we hear about the time that police were sent to his door. Now we have more of that conversation.

MICHELE NORRIS, BYLINE: A few times in our conversation, Marc Quarles, you have noted that when people approach you, they look you up and down.


NORRIS: And when they look you up and down, they will see a black man with dreadlocks.

QUARLES: Yes, ma'am.

NORRIS: Do the dreadlocks play a role in this?

QUARLES: Yes, but at the same time...

NORRIS: You seem - heavy sigh when you answer that question.

QUARLES: Yes, yes.

NORRIS: Help me understand where that comes from.

QUARLES: Initially, when I first grew the dreadlocks, it was a problem.

NORRIS: Did you think twice about growing your dreadlocks?

QUARLES: Yes, yes I did. I've only had them for six years now.

NORRIS: They're long. Your hair must grow very fast.

QUARLES: Yes, ma'am. But, again, I had the houses and the job and the career before I grew the hair.

NORRIS: They look great.

QUARLES: Thank you.

NORRIS: What would you say if your son came home and said, dad, I want to grow locks, too?


NORRIS: You know, I wish that we weren't on the radio because the face you just made (laughter) was really interesting.

QUARLES: Well, if he came home and said he wanted to grow dreadlocks, I would share with him - well, son, I hope you're prepared and ready for what's going to come along with that because it's going to take a great deal of patience, and you're going to have to be ready for what people will say and what they will think about you.

NORRIS: So you would want him to know that people might make assumptions...

QUARLES: Absolutely.

NORRIS: ...About him based on the hairstyle that you, yourself, wear?

QUARLES: Yes, ma'am. Yes he's...

NORRIS: 'Cause you know he would say to you, well, dad, you do it.

QUARLES: Yes, and I would tell him, son, I've completed my education. I have a very good career. We have a nice home, and I did all of these things before I decided to grow my dreadlocks. And, again, the world will make assumptions about you based on your appearance. So right now, I just need you to be a clean-cut, well-dressed kid without your pants hanging off of your butt. And that's the direction that we're going.

INSKEEP: That's Marc Quarles who spoke with our colleague Michele Norris, who's in the studios here. Michele, bottom line question, so does he want his son to have dreadlocks or not?

NORRIS: Not now. Marc Quarles said he's earned the right to do that over time with success. He wants his son to earn that same right if he wants to wear dreadlocks - to earn a good living and to earn respect. And when his kids leave the family nest, he wonders if their cultural identities will be a liability.

QUARLES: I think the world will have a certain idea of what they are and what they can become just by looking at them. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.