Lenten Challenge #3: Rebooting Responsibility for Race Relations

Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates while in Curacao on vacation is a mind-blowing experience. His book, Between the World and Me, challenged me to rethink my responsibility for the troubled state of race relations in America. 

The other-world beauty of our all inclusive tropical resort, the Island’s history as the center of the Atlantic Slave Trade and the distance from my everyday life in suburban New Jersey, caused me to experience Coates’ ideas as if sitting in a IMAX theater with its imposing 7-story tall, 90 foot wide screen, and booming network of 44 speakers.

IMAX Theater

A central premise of Coates’ book, Between the World and Me, is that “White” people are living in world built on “the Dream.” In this dream, Whites live in a safe suburban dream world that “smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake.” The cardinal sin of  Whites is that we attribute our affluence to their “exceptionalism” while in fact our success rests on the brutal oppression of those who Coates calls “Conveniently Black.”

It’s not hard to feel like you are living “the Dream” at someone else expense while in Curacao. The walls of the Savonet plantation home we visited in Curacao’s Christoffelpark National Park were lined with beautiful photos of Blacks hard at work and Dutch overlords standing around looking stern.

Savonet Plantation Curacao

And while it may be easy for a vacationer to dismiss the enforced labor that built these historic plantations as the “bad old days”, it is harder to ignore the persistent scratch scratch scratch of the black woman behind me scraping the grill, putting her whole body weight into removing the encrusted bits of last night’s chimichurri skirt steak  while I relax under a beach umbrella reading my book.

Not to mention the evening fire-eaters performance. Men with chipmunk cheeks spew lamp oil into flaming torches, sending 4-foot flares into the dark night air. The penultimate performance is where Brillo tipped batons are smashed on the ground launching a cascade of fiery sparks into the air that rain down around and onto the performer.

According to the former fire performer I spoke to, yes, the flaming bits of steel wool do hurt when they hit your shoulders. But not to worry about the lamp oil, you can get rid of its taste by drinking a lot of milk.


My Dream-like existence was further reinforced by an insipid solo violin version of the Beatles Strawberry Fields that wafts softy throughout the resort while the fronds of the palm thatched roofs rhythmically lift and lower in the breeze. The songs subversive lyrics are absent, but inspired by Coates, my baby boomer mind can’t help filling in John Lennon’s electrically distorted voice, “Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see.”

But there was no misunderstanding what I saw shortly after my return from Curacao, leaving a restaurant in a close by suburban New Jersey town . After dinner I walked by a silver Mercedes that had been pulled over by the police. Inspired by Coates, I quickly peaked in to look at the driver. Take a wild guess at the color of his skin.

Reading Coates is getting contact lenses after years of ill-fitting glasses; it takes your ability to see to a whole new level. It’s going to take me a while to unpack all the ideas in this short 152-page book, and certainly more than one 500-word Modern Church Lady Lenten blog post allows for.

But “The Dream” is unraveling before my eyes.  


Modern Church Lady Reboot Challenge #3:

How would reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me reboot your sense of responsibility for race relations in America?


This is the 3rd in a series of five Modern Church Lady Reboot Challenges. Come back next week for Challenge #4: Rebooting American Values.  For Reboot Challenge #1: Rebooting Your Approach to Temptation, Click Here. For Reboot Challenge #2: Rebooting Your Attitude Towards Food, Click Here