I Am So Sorry, Rosie. I Didn’t Know.

black maidPlease 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,  Three years old.  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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