Billy's smile as he came out of the shrubbery was at least as peculiar as Mon Lisa's, for he was simultaneously on foot in Germany in 1944 and riding his Cadillac in 1967. Germany dropped away, and 1967 became bright and clear, free of interference from any other time. Billy was on his way to a Lions Club luncheon meeting. It was a hot August, and Billy's car was air-conditioned. He was stopped by a signal in the middle of Illium's black ghetto. The people who lived here hated it so much that they had burned down a lot of it a month before. It was all they had, and they'd wrecked it. The neighborhood reminded Billy of some of the towns he had seen in the war. The curbs and sidewalks were crushed in my places, showing where the National Guard tanks and half-tracks had been.
Vonnegut is touching on racial tensions in America. There were several riots that took place during the summer of 1967 in the United States, the most serious occurring in Detroit during the month of July. In the Detroit riot, 43 people died, and 1,189 people were injured. Over two thousand buildings were destroyed. My family was living in Detroit at the time.
From everything that I've heard, that summer was hot. Really hot. Of course, riots don't just happen because people are overheated, although the high temperatures were probably a good reflection of the kind of racial tensions that were simmering in the Motor City.
I am not going to get all political about racial inequality in the United States here. There is no questions that it exists. Whether you believe in the Black Lives Matter movement or not, you can't overlook that fact that African American men make up 37% of prison inmates, even though African Americans comprise only 12 to 13% of the population of the United States. Those a startling numbers.
Back in the late 1960s, when Kurt Vonnegut published Slaughterhouse Five, he knew that the country had race problems. Obviously. The Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, and Martin Luther King and Malcolm X had just been assassinated. Bobby Kennedy, too. The United States has a pretty ugly history when it comes to race relations. And gender relations. And LGTBQ relations.
So, the ugliness that has been on display during and after the 2016 Presidential election is really not all that shocking. It's simply a reflection of the warty underbelly of American history. For a long time, it wasn't really acceptable for haters to hate openly. It was shameful. Criminal. I miss that time.
Again, I am not taking a political stand here. I'm just pointing out realities that a lot of people seem to be forgetting. Less than a hundred years ago, women didn't have the right to vote. A little more than fifty years ago, African Americans took their lives in their own hands if they wanted to participate in the election process. The Stonewall Riots happened in 1969, and today we are still trying to deny the rights of transgender students in our public schools.
Jesus Christ talked about loving people, not judging people. For any Christian reading this post, I have to ask: where do you think Christ would stand on the issue of Syrian refugees in the United States? Of Muslim bans? Of illegal immigrants? Answer those questions honestly, with the same love and compassion that Jesus preached during His time on Earth.
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for the Constitution of the United States. Remember that little piece of paper?