Love & Wisdom

Editor’s Note: An Experience That Lives Forever

The world isn't always as it seems

By Rob Smith November 13, 2023

SBM9663_2019_Rob_Smith_TC_07983_RT_1

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2023 issue of Seattle magazine.

It was Friday night after a long week. I had just arrived home. The red light was flashing on my answering machine (remember those?). I was ready for the weekend.

The call crushed me.

My first love, my high school sweetheart, my partner in mischief, had passed away due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis. Gwen Cabine was only 33 years old.

Our relationship, our friendship, was always complicated. Gwen was Black. It was 1980. Interracial relationships were rare. Neither of us anticipated the judgment and flat-out racism directed our way.

Gwen lived across town, and we met only because of school desegregation. What an eye-opening experience this was for me, for us. I was exposed to a world I never knew existed. I was only 17, 18 years old, and of course I thought I was more sophisticated than I was. I thought I knew more than I did.

I vividly recall being one of the few, if not only, white persons at weddings and house parties. The conversations were fascinating. I heard tales of racism I could never have imagined. I was asked challenging questions: What was it like going through life as a white boy? Did I ever feel guilty for being white, or growing up in a certain part of town? Did I realize how lucky I was?

The answers, of course, were “no.” And the education we both endured caught us completely off-guard.

Many Black people called her a sellout. Many white people stared at us and simply shook their heads. I received a racist phone call from classmates. We were both threatened with physical violence. The entire school, it seemed, was aware of us.

At first, it made us stronger. It was us against the world. Eventually, it became too much. We graduated from high school and didn’t talk for  years. When we reconnected, distance, wisdom, and maturity enabled us to put things in perspective. The experience significantly influenced both of us.

I learned so much that sticks with me to this day: The world isn’t always as it seems. Accept things that you don’t necessarily understand. Remain sensitive to those whose life experiences may be different.

I will always experience life through the lens of a white man. But, thanks to Gwen and the lessons we learned together, I strive to be more tolerant, more open-minded, more empathetic. I’m sure I don’t always succeed.

But I try.

About the Editor's Note Column

Rob Smith is the editor of Seattle magazine and Seattle Business magazine. Following a brief stint in politics after graduating from the University of Oregon, he began freelance writing when a friend landed a job at a small newspaper. A few months later he was offered a full-time position and, as Mark Twain said, "I had no other options," so Rob became a journalist. He likes getting paid to be nosy.

https://seattlemag.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Rob-Smith-1000x1000-cropped-512x512.png

Follow Us

Finding Freedom 

Finding Freedom 

Seattle author Stacey Levine’s new book, Mice 1961, follows two sisters during a single day of their fraught relationship

From the get-go, Stacey Levine’s latest novel, Mice 1961, plunges the reader into a story of motion. “I’m interested in playing with language,” says Levine, who, in addition to authoring several novels and a book of short stories, teaches English composition and creative writing at Seattle Central College. “I’m also intrigued by the drama of

Celebrating 50 Years of Seattle Pride

Celebrating 50 Years of Seattle Pride

From 200 people in 1974 to more than 300,000 today, Seattle Pride has grown into Washington’s largest parade

Seattle's LGBTQ+ history stretches back to the late 1800s when Pioneer Square, known at the time as "Fairyville," was a sanctuary for the queer community, housing thriving gay bars and social spaces...

Tacoma Art Museum Reckons With the Roots of One of its Biggest Collections 

Tacoma Art Museum Reckons With the Roots of One of its Biggest Collections 

TAM’s latest show reconsiders the meaning of Western American art

On the night of Nov. 3, 1885, a mob composed of hundreds of people marched through Tacoma, expelling members of the Chinese community from their homes, intimidating them (with weapons and threats) into leaving the city permanently, and then burning down the remaining houses — often with all of the victim’s possessions still inside.  The…

Trailblazing Women: Jean Smart

Trailblazing Women: Jean Smart

'Hacks' star reflects on her career and how growing up in Seattle shaped her

It's almost noon, and Jean Smart is present as ever during a phone call. She actually asks the first question, about whether I’m a Seattle native. “Oh, you are!” she exclaims, her voice lighting up with even more warmth when she finds out I am a fellow University of Washington alum and, like her youngest,