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Joyce King, 'Growing Up Southern'

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

Joyce King says she's a real Southerner and proud of it, but she has painful memories of growing up black in the South. King, a former news anchor and reporter, has written a memoir titled, "Growing Up Southern: White Men I Met Along the Way." Chapter one begins with King's childhood encounter with what she calls her first white boy.

Ms. JOYCE KING (Author, "Growing Up Southern"): (Reading) `On one corner lived the most peculiar-looking kid I ever seen with his pink salmon skin. He was white all right, but then he wasn't. Whoever thought white people should be called white when they really weren't started a lot of this mess. Seeing Sidney up close made me even more curious. In addition to his obvious differences in tone and texture, he had more toys and stuff to play with than any of us ever seen. If we were good, Sidney made it clear that he would choose one of us as his pet for whatever designated period he deemed fair. I grew to dislike Sidney almost immediately.'

CHIDEYA: The book continues with tales of other white men who shaped Joyce King's live, good experiences and bad. She shares some of what she's learned along the way with NPR's Ed Gordon.

ED GORDON, host:

At one point, you actually use the language you `used to hate most white men.' How much of that is poetic license and how much of that is real in the sense of what we think of when we hear the word `hate'?

Ms. KING: I think a lot of it is real because you grow up as a kid and see how your grandparents were treated, you see how your parents are treated, all at the hands of white men in power. Privileged white men have forever shaped the lives of black people in the South, and that was the South that I grew up under. I'm over 40 years old and I came up believing they certainly cannot be trusted. I tell you in the book that my half-white grandfather, who looks like a white man, who looks exactly like his white father in Louisiana did, he hated white people, and this was all we ever heard from him. `Never trust a white man. Never trust a cracker. Never trust a redneck.' And you grow up as a kid hearing this; how can you not help be affected by it? But I wanted to shake some of it off and see, well, why did he hate his white father? So I find that a lot of it is very, very true in saying--you meant it when you said it: `I hate white men. I can't stand white men.' I still hear people say that when things go wrong racially or get out of whack. They say things like, `See? White people can't be trusted. White people aren't gonna do the right thing.'

GORDON: At the end of the day, after writing this, what did you find out about yourself and, again, about the relationship, if you use your life as a microcosm, between blacks and whites?

Ms. KING: At the end of the day, I found out that a lot of women feel like this is their story. A lot of black women have called me, sent me e-mails, have said, `This is our story.' And it's not just for people who were born in the South; this is for women all over the country I've been hearing from who've said, `Thank you, because this is me.' It is such an ordinary story that there is something extraordinary about it. I've found out that I can do better. I am not going to tell other people what they need to do racially, but if I can be the best that I can be, I hope to inspire not just the white men I want to read this book, but the futuristic white men that I will meet along the way. I've found out that I'm more giving and more compassionate, and black people tend to be overwhelmingly forgiving. And so I want to forgive the white men who've hurt me, so I've been able to have a conversation, have a dialogue with white men that I never, I never thought would be possible.

GORDON: What about the dichotomy that many African-American women have found in this strange relationship, in the sense of there may be hatred for you as a black person but lust for black females?

Ms. KING: Well, I do address very briefly in the book that Jeffersonian history that we have with white men, and there's still a taboo, if you will, connected to it in the, quote, "new South." The new South is very much like the old South in some pockets, in some places. And so I've found that a lot of people have said, `You know, we really haven't given it this pairing.' We've done a lot as far as black men and white women, but we have not looked at the other side of the coin very well. We have been afraid, we have been still culturally trapped in that Thomas Jefferson thinking that if a white man desires a friendship or a relationship with a black woman, it must be taboo; it must have something to do with the old way of thinking, the slave-quarter mentality. And I want to erase that. I want to try, if I can, because I used to believe that, too. If a white man's interested, it's one thing, baby. It's one thing. I used to really think that in the South I grew up in. But I want to erase that for myself and a lot of other people because my mom did teach me, `Try to take each person one at a time. It's about benefit of the doubt.' And I'm trying to look at white men's hearts and not their skin.

GORDON: Well, Joyce King is the author. The book is titled "Growing Up Southern: White Men I Met Along the Way." Joyce, thanks very much for joining us.

Ms. KING: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.