Tuberculosis and Political Correctness
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Gary L. Clark is an author. After a thirty year career he retired to write a novel. He then joined a counselor-in-training program at the local community mental health center and worked three years as a substance abuse counselor. He retired again and has written two more novels. He recently completed the annotation of a self-help book on faith-based self-help. Two published novels (available on address social justice. Mr. Clark is the Editor of He lives in St. Joseph, Missouri.

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Tuberculosis and Political Correctness

My father was born in 1923.  His would be considered an upbringing in poverty.  With many children in the home, the depression, and some abuse of alcohol by his father – life was difficult.  Difficult lives are almost always made more difficult by prejudice.  In a strange twist of irony, political correctness in the early 1900’s was almost exactly opposite of what it means today.  The plague of Tuberculosis provides much evidence.

My father was raised in abject poverty.  Their table manners and hygiene were not priorities.  Japan’s bombing Pearl Harbor would ultimately save my father from a predestined life – he joined the Army and was sent away for over three years.  The Army taught him to change his socks and underwear, to walk with his chin up and shoulders back, to respect himself and to take good care of his hygiene.  He brought those values home with him – stirred them into some of his life experience – such as public reaction to disease such as TB, smallpox, polio, and hepatitis – and he landed on some strict rules for his children.

If my father caught one of his six sons spitting on a public sidewalk, or spitting anywhere anytime, that boy would receive at the very least a talk about the disgust of spitting.  I do not recall him explaining the transference of disease – but I clearly remember that spitting was something that would get my ears boxed.  Spitting was simply politically incorrect.  Farting and laughing about it was right up there with equal disdain.

I am now a senior citizen, even have my papers to prove it.  But I am just  one generation removed from some of the most horrific of diseases.  My mother and grandmother had smallpox.  My grandmother would die two months later of, what my mother calls “Compaction of the Bowels“, likely brought on by the smallpox.  People of my era look at many of these illnesses somewhat academically – some of curiosity but not a real threat.  One generation before witnessed the devastation of rampant disease.  Political correctness was swift and forcefully administered.

This documentary on PBS provides the some really good background on TB.  It was in the late 1800’s that bacteria was discovered as the cause of tuberculosis – or TB in the jargon of the masses.  Until that discovery ‘consumption’ was considered to be genetic or a problem with blood – in any case – it was not seen as contagious.

An illness such as TB gets the attention of public health officials real quick – one in seven of all humans had died of TB in the past three thousand years.  Those are staggering numbers.  When recognized as contagious the prejudice against someone with the disease was devastating.

Spitting, coughing, wheezing, or other respiratory problems became suspect.  Health officials quickly recognized the disease as being most prominent in poor immigrant communities.  We might expect as much.  These folks lived and worked in close quarters.  Think crowded tenements and sweat shop working conditions.  Public health officials could and would search people’s homes with the slightest of provocation.  And few complained.  TD had devastated whole communities.

Public health and safety is an area where political correctness finds fertile soil – and is watered regularly.  Thus it is with some confusion we look at the ‘politically correct’ attitude toward people of the faith of Islam.  Discussion of Islam is a two edged sword.  Much of the trouble around the world today is directly attributable to radicalized Muslims – sorry folks if that is politically incorrect – but I believe the facts will bear witness to my claim.  And there is the hitch.  On the one hand we want to be vary clear about who attacked the USA on September 11, 2001.  On the other hand there seems little value in lumping all Muslims together in that one pot.

In my father’s time spitting was not just a crime of the infected – anyone spitting was seen as a vulgar threat to public health.  Perhaps I should also note that in my father’s early years the Christian organization called the Klu Klux Klan was experiencing a rebirth with their discrimination against African Americans, Catholics, and people of the Jewish faith.

I never understood the problem with the Jewish.  And I continue to struggle today with political correctness.


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