BETWEEN THE LINES: If you’re a member of a recognized minority — whether it’s African-American, Latino, Asian, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, LGBT and so on — you have more than likely encountered some form of discrimination in your life. From my few encounters, I can tell you, it’s not pleasant to be on the receiving end.
But there’s another minority, which receives scant consideration or empathy and, since I’m a lifelong member, it’s time to put an end to that neglect. After centuries of oppression, this unfounded prejudice, which stems from ancient superstitions with a few connections to devil worship, should finally cease.
Are you even aware of the sporadic discrimination and disadvantages left-handers face every day? If you’re right-handed, you probably never even thought about it, but it has existed for a long time. In fact, the Latin word for “left” is sinister.
Stop your snickering. This isn’t funny unless you’re among those right-handed bigots.
Growing up I learned that a maternal uncle did everything with his left hand, except write. When I discovered why, I was astonished. As an elementary and high school student in Brighton Beach, his left hand was tied behind his back to force him to write with his right hand. Apparently, even in the 20th century it was largely accepted and not deemed cruel or unusual punishment, as surely as it seems to this left-hander. My maternal Polish grandparents likely didn’t object since it was a custom “in the old country” to convert left-handers.
It is estimated that approximately 13 percent of the world’s population is left-handed. That’s almost 600 million people — almost twice the U.S. population! Roughly 10 percent of Americans are left-handed, though that number is considerably higher when it comes to left-leaning politics.
My consciousness about left-handed bias was raised during Army basic training. When I was trained to shoot a rifle, I quickly realized the M-14 — the weapon of choice for U.S. soldiers at the time — ejected bullet casings to the right. Therefore, if a left-hander wasn’t alert, he could get singed when the heated casing struck his face or hand. My unsympathetic instructor told me to deal with it. I guess I did as I was later awarded a sharpshooter medal.
I’ve grown accustomed to the disadvantages that left-handers face with everyday items, yet they do persist and are largely overlooked, though there some products are specifically made for lefties. So many everyday items are geared for righties, like door handles, banisters, school desks, can openers, power tools and scissors. Items such as corkscrews and light bulbs require left-to-right wrist movements that would seem uncomfortable if lefties didn’t use their flexibility as they get used to it with frequent use.
A 19th-century Italian physician, Cesare Lombroso, identified left-handedness “as evidence of savagery and criminality.” His views were widely refuted, but, nevertheless, it added to the stigma lefties face.
In many cultures, left-handers are treated with disdain. In some foreign languages, such as French, Danish, Italian, German and Russian, left-handedness has a negative connotation. The French word is “gauche,” meaning awkward or clumsy; in Italian “mancini” means crooked or maimed, and the Russian word translates as “sneaky.” In English, “left” comes from the Old English “left,” which means “weak.”
The expression “to have two left feet” refers to clumsiness, particularly in dancing.
The term “leftovers” may be interpreted as a derogatory term for food that is no longer fresh.
A left-handed compliment is criticism, not praise.
Feminists can’t be too pleased that in some religions, whose images depict a male and a female, the female is always the one on the left.
In contrast, the words describing ‘right’ often mean straight, erect, just, correct, law and upright.
Shaking hands is a custom that began in medieval times. When two people met they would hold each other’s right hand because that was the preferred hand to carry a weapon. As a result, lefties could not be trusted because they would shake their enemy’s right hand and hold a sword behind them with the left hand.
Even the Bible disparages lefties. A line in Genesis reads: “The right hand confers blessing and signifies strength, while the left hand is treacherous and deadly.”
Another goes: “A place at one’s right hand is the seat of honor and dignity.” If you’re seated on the left, does that mean no dessert for you?
There’s also this familiar passage from Luke: “In like manner, both the passivity and inferiority of the left hand are apparent… forbidding us to let our left hand know what the right hand is doing.”
The effect of those biblical biases led to witch hunts and condemnation of lefties in the Dark Ages.
In baseball, however, left-handers are valuable commodities. Two of the game’s all-time greats include left-handers Sandy Koufax and Whitey Ford. Though right-handed pitchers dominate the sport, most teams stock their rotations with a decent number of left-handers, or southpaws. In boxing, lefties tend to have an advantage because opponents are not accustomed to facing a southpaw. In the film, “Rocky,” the title character was a southpaw and explains to his girlfriend the origin of the term.
FYI, some famous left-handers include Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great, Mahatma Gandhi, Aristotle, Beethoven, Albert Einstein, Billy the Kid, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Julia Roberts, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Paul Simon, half of The Beatles (Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr) and puppeteer Jim Henson.
Our current president is left-handed, but Tea Partiers, conservatives and some Republicans, who may not even realize it, have considered him a lefty since he was elected. Other left-handed presidents were Herbert Hoover, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton.
Check this site out for a more comprehensive list of lefties.
Left-handers are generally more intelligent, better looking, imaginative and multi-talented than right-handers. Just ask any left hander.
Nevertheless, the time for even-handedness is at hand and there’s no better time for the changes to commence than August 13th, International Left-handers’ Day. There’ll be no parades, no celebrations, and little recognition, but it is a day for lefties to remind everyone else that, in a right-handed world, we lefties deserve rights!
Just remember, the next time you see a lefty being ridiculed or clumsily struggling with a product, there but for your genes goes you.
Neil S. Friedman is a veteran reporter and photographer, and spent 15 years as an editor for a Brooklyn weekly newspaper. He also did public relations work for Showtime, The Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson. Friedman contributes a weekly column called “Between the Lines” on life, culture and politics in Sheepshead Bay.
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