I Am So Sorry, Rosie. (

Please excuse the offensive word used in context in this story.

Rosie was beautiful, the first black woman I ever knew.  She tolerated my stroking her creamy, caramel-colored legs as she washed dishes or ironed. Her crisply starched cotton housedresses smelled just like sunshine.  Normally, I trailed my mother, but on the days Rosie was there, she couldn’t stop suddenly without my bumping her.  Rosie ate standing up at the kitchen counter with her own special dishes while I ate at the kitchen table.  I wanted to eat standing at the counter with her but wasn’t tall enough.  One day as we ate, she told me she had a little girl.  Pearl was three years old, just my age.  I was enchanted.  “Is she a nigger girl?”  Rosie’s face fell.

“Don’t say ‘nigger.’  That’s a mean word. Say ‘colored’.”  I was surprised Rosie corrected me, not knowing I’d done anything wrong.   I was also surprised to hear “nigger” was a mean word.  I’d heard it many times.

Rosie said no more.  I was relieved when she seemed to have forgiven me, soon allowing me to hug her and stroke her beautiful, smooth legs as she worked along.

It was years before I realized how deeply I’d hurt her.  I am so, so sorry Rosie.  I wish I could unsay that awful thing.

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38 thoughts on “I Am So Sorry, Rosie. (

  1. As all the prior commenters have said, you were entirely innocent, and should feel no guilt whatsoever, but of course everyone understands how you wish you could tell Rosie now how sorry you are for the deep hurt you caused her then–no matter how innocently. Think of it like this: If she has died, she knows already how you feel, and if not, she will know then.

    My mother introduced us children to the word in a context she thought we would laugh at: She told us the name for Brazil nuts that she and all of her relatives had used (I won’t repeat it). We four did not laugh. We thought the name was mean-spirited and not funny and that she was …I guess you would say, stupid, to think it was funny.

    The next time I heard the word was as a young adult. One of my white friend’s sisters was married to a black man and her father had disowned her due to this (the family is Mennonite). Our group thought this was cold-hearted and evil of him–or so I thought. But as I walked up behind two of our group one day, I heard one say to the other:

    “I’d never date a N#gg#r–would YOU!?”

    Shocked me about out of my shoes.

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  2. Well, lucky for you that Rosie was a strong young woman and knew enough to understand where the programming was implanted in your innocent mind. To this day, it bothers me some of the many expressions that were used in daily language i.e. Licorice babies, Brazil nuts etc. We can only blame prior generations as many of them, like us, were not aware of the offensive manner in which such words were created in the first place. Although I am Canadian, I have been living in the US for the past two years and am happy to say that I have not heard the “N” word once down here in Texas. I only have one relative back home who continues to this day using that word and I correct him every time by letting him know that the word is no appropriate and should be removed from his vocabulary. His age is against him and all I can do is keep reminding him. Of every black person we have been lucky enough to meet down here, I only have great words to say about how kind, caring and respectful they are.
    Your story was beautifully written and shows a shift in mentality, which,in itself admirable. Thank you for saying what you did,as too many never took that opportunity when they could. Kudos to you and all the wonderful women named Rosie (and all others, both male and female, young and old) for helping to correct this huge injustice. I will continue as well!

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  3. Sorry this took so long, Ibeth1950. Your Rosie could have been one of my Aunts. They all were your “Rosie.” I will be posting a piece just finished: “Mississippi Burning” that briefly touches on this subject by my Aunt featured in it. Personally, I first heard the N-Word when I was about 4- 5. It was part of a horrendous “game” if you could call it that. Another piece just completed: “The Bo Dollar Kid” will be posted in the next several weeks. It was hard recalling and writing this piece. It had been buried deep. I left out the part about the language and words being uttered at us kids during these occasions.

    In all my upcoming posts, you will note that I mention “Glimpses of…..” in my copyright notice. My Category for these pieces will also note :True Stories.” As some of your commenters stated, it was the times. I grant that, but the hurt from “back then” lingers long…deep; and when recalled…with anger at times – but disappointment at how the prevaling mores robbed my long ago, as well as my immediate ancestors; and in some ways – me of pursuing and creating a different destiny. It is still not “Water of the Dam” as many wish it were so. There is even hurt in that viewpoint because I am being asked to absolve the sins of the past as if they never happened – though those sins are with us even now.

    I note that all your “comments” absolved you of any guilt…rightly so. You were a child. But, as one of those N-word folk, who had that word hurled at me by kids (yes, toddlers like you were); it hurt like hell. As I grew older, I would not tolerate being called that name.

    Again, like your “commenters” spoke: it was an act of courage to post this piece to world. What really surprises me is the paucity of comments.

    I was raised Baptist, as well. The thing that drove me from the church is the subject of a future post. The event destroyed my perception of the church and its dogma. At the time, I was too young to understand the frailties of humankind.

    Finally, yes – I will work with you on a piece. The reason being is because I changed hearts and minds via college as you were opened to changing. I dare say, though, I will be no less than completely honest in whatever we do. Also know that it is not my intention to jab, jab, jab my finger in your eye; or all White folks. But there is a thing entitled, “White Privilege,” and those that deny this truth, well – we can debate until Hell freezes over…

    Again, my apologies for the delay in responding….when i write, I have to write until the story has been wrung out of me.

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  4. When I was 5, my best buddy was Reginald, a little black kid. My parents had no problem with me hanging out with him. We were in and out of each other’s houses all the time.

    Then they found out he was a Baptist!! Reginald himself didn’t even know he was one.

    We dwell on race, as well we should, but let’s not forget all the other things that divided us. Back in the 50’s, religion often created insurmountable barriers within communities. God help you if your parents found out you went to a movie with a LUTHERAN!!

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  5. We can’t change what words have been said to us by one generation, but we can change what we say to our children and following generations. You have done that. That’s how things change. Thanks for this. I know exactly where you’re coming from.

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  6. A three year old couldn’t possibly know any better. By the time I was growing up, I never heard that word at all. Probably not until I heard Richard Pryor use it in a special. But you were living in a different era. No need to carry around that guilt, especially when she could see how much you loved her.

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  7. You were a baby, in the 50’s South, segregation was rampant, and it was part of your culture. “I’d heard it many times”. Don’t be too hard on yourself. She was wise to correct you, and kind in her treatment, no doubt. You were one of the lucky ones to hear that so early. It made an impression, and that’s what counts. All about geography. Thanks for sharing. ☺ Van

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    • It was an awful thing for good people to have to endure. Sometimes now I hear people talk about the depth of racism and recall the way it was. We have moved forward but there is still so much understanding needed.

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