Being Left-Handed

June 6, 2021

by Steve Stofka

This past week we recognized the 100-year anniversary of the massacre and destruction of an entire black neighborhood in Tulsa. We struggle to talk constructively about racial hatred and injustice, willing to look back in history but not look at those same forces in our current circumstances. Ongoing practices and attitudes favor some at the disadvantage of others, an ugliness of human nature that we want to keep imprisoned and invisible. Given that reluctance, I thought I would approach the subject from a different angle, one that readers can better tolerate.

Left-handers live in a right-handed world. Approximately 1 in 10 people are left-handed,  outnumbered by a majority of right-handers who make the design rules. If lefties cannot use scissors properly, they are clumsy. Here, let me show you how to do it, a righty says. China, the global leader in manufacturing, does not make left-handed scissors. All children are taught how to use right-handed scissors. In many Asian countries, people perceive lefties as aberrant so that left-handedness goes underreported (Kushner, 2013).  

Designed for right-handers, safety guards on cutting tools do not adequately protect left-handed operators and result in more injuries (Flatt, 2008). This reinforces the notion that there is something wrong with left-handers. They are not mindful. It is their fault, not a peculiarity of the machine’s design. Surgeons who are left-handed require a longer learning curve to adapt to right-handed stents, forceps and cutting instruments. Even those learning to shoot a rifle must make some adaptations that right-handers take for granted.

Lefty loosey, righty tighty seems like an easy mnemonic to a right hander, but difficult for a left hander who watches and mirrors a right-hander open or close a jar lid. At a family gathering, the family seats the kid with the left-handed arm at the corner of the dining table, away from the center of conversation. American teachers would force left-handers to write with their paper turned the same way as right-handers, forcing many left-handers to curl their wrist into the shape of an ‘f’ in order to keep their letters on the line. Left-handers are systemically marginalized and righties are blissfully unaware of the practice (Coren, 1993). Paul McCartney, one of the Beatles, played a left-handed bass. Who knew they existed? Most lefties were taught how to play a guitar the “proper” way, which was right-handed of course.

Decades ago, parents and educators in western European countries thought that a child’s handedness could be repatterned. Take the spoon out of the child’s left hand and put it in their right hand. When they use a play hammer to tap in wooden shapes, take it out of their left hand and put it in their right hand. Don’t let them salute the flag with their left arm. Make them do it with their right. A left-hander who could not retool their brain was regarded as stubborn or subversive.

The majority in a community feels an entitlement to have it their way, but especially so in a democracy where everyone gets a vote. The majority dominates and even persecutes the minority. Charles Darwin noticed that finches drive out those born with a different beak or plumage, the majority acting to preserve key distinguishing qualities. Humans use skin color, language, political and religious beliefs to separate “us” from “them.” Beliefs can change but skin color is hereditary and language or accent is embedded in us as children.

“Look, this is a right-handed world,” say the righties to the lefties. If the majority can be discriminative against left-handers, imagine how much worse it is for those with other hereditary traits. Like Darwin’s finches, the majority white population excludes black people from living in certain neighborhoods and treated black families with hostility when they were traveling on vacation (Burton, 2012). The majority withholds resources – credit and job opportunities – from black people because they have the wrong “plumage” or their “beaks” are  too large. Our brains have grown large but our primitive behaviors emerge from our bird brains. We must evolve and become human.

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Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Burton, Ph.D., N. (2012, July 12). How Did Blacks Travel During Segregation? Retrieved June 04, 2021, from https://cobb.typepad.com/files/root_green_book-1.pdf

Coren, S. (1993). The left-hander syndrome: The causes and consequences of left-handedness. New York, NY: Vintage Books.

Flatt, A. E. (2008). Is being left-handed a handicap? The short and useless answer is “yes and no.”. Baylor University Medical Center Proceedings, 21(3), 304-307. doi:10.1080/08998280.2008.11928414. Caution: some photos of hand injuries may be disturbing.

Kushner, H. I. (2013). Why are there (almost) NO Left-handers in China? Endeavour, 37(2), 71-81. doi:10.1016/j.endeavour.2012.12.003

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