Discrimination exists: Against left handed people


One of the most common responses I get when raising awareness of the problems left handed people face (and especially when using the term right handed privilege) is to call this a “first world problem”.

Unfortunately, people are that oblivious.

“First world countries” don’t ostracize people for using their left hand. They don’t call left handed people “witches”. They don’t call use of the left hand “dirty” or “disrespectful”. And most importantly, “first world countries” don’t beat children at home or in schools for using their left hands.

(Mass manufactured products are exported to developing countries, but rarely have left handed options in their design, including software. What happens when people in developing countries see these products? It reinforces the right hand bias: “See? First world countries don’t have left handedness either!” It further “justifies” the mistreatment of people. A “first world problem” is something that only affects “developed nations” e.g. the wi-fi is down.)


A 2013 study by the Smithsonian shows the extent of the problem:

Two-Thirds of the World Still Hates Lefties

For 2/3 of the world’s population, being born left handed is still met with distrust and stigma

By Rose Eveleth

May 17, 2013

There are still some pretty annoying things about being left-handed. But in America, at least, we’ve mostly stopped forcing lefties to learn to use their right hand. That’s not the case everywhere, though. China, for example, claims that less than one percent of students are left-handed. If that were true, it would be strange: the global average of lefties comes in at 10-12 percent. A study in the journal Endeavor recently took on this question: Why are there no left-handers in China? The researchers also looked at India and Islamic countries and discovered that nearly two-thirds of the world’s lefty population faces discrimination.

And for a long time there were all sorts of ways to “retrain” lefties. An article in The Lancet explains the “scientific” rationales used:

The methods used to obtain this result were often tortuous, including tying a resistant child’s left hand to immobilise it. Typical of the reasoning to justify such practices is a 1924 letter to the British Medical Journal endorsing “retraining” of left-handers to write with their right hands, because otherwise the left-handed child would risk “retardation in mental development; in some cases…actual feeble-mindedness”. As late as 1946 the former chief psychiatrist of the New York City Board of Education, Abram Blau, warned that, unless retrained, left-handed children risked severe developmental and learning disabilities and insisted that “children should be encouraged in their early years to adopt dextrality…in order to become better equipped to live in our right-sided world”.

What sort of social stigma are they referring to? Ones that I have experienced myself in Thailand and elsewhere in Asia. I have never been to the United Arab Emirates, but I found this on their official website for Washington, D.C.:

Traveling in a Muslim Country

Food

The act of communal eating is a highly recognized outward expression of friendship in the Middle East.

– Do not eat with your left hand, which is considered unclean.

If someone makes a scene because I touch food with my left hand, I hand them food with the right. As they eat, I tell them my right hand is my toilet hand. Their facial expressions are priceless.

India also views the left hand as the “dirty hand” in the same way as muslim countries do.

How is being left-handed not right?

I remember the day when my mother was dumbfounded to see my daughter (who was then around two years old) invariably using her left hand for most of her activities. My poor mother reminisced the days when she struggled to convince the elders of the house that her daughter (myself) was left-handed and that there was nothing opprobrious about it but she failed miserably. She was sternly advised to change my natural inclination to use the left hand and fearing the repercussions of defying them, she coerced me into making me a right-hander.

[…]

After my hue and cry for the past three years in my family, my daughter has at last been permitted to use her left hand for most of the activities like writing and playing, barring a few like eating and serving. I feel it is very unfair to compel a left-handed child to eat with her right hand as having food is such an important activity of our daily life which is done with our heart and soul, relishing morsel by morsel, but my daughter is pressured and is not able to enjoy her food wholeheartedly. What a punishment for being a left-hander?

Africans Unite Against Child Abuse (AFRUCA) published a document called “What Is Witchcraft Abuse?” Left handedness is considered “a sign of witchcraft”. In 2009.

From Radio France International:

African lefties speak out on International Left-Handers Day

For some, they want to promote left-handedness because they weren’t allowed to use their left hand at school. That’s the case for Bernard Bogere Ssenkubuge, the founder of Keep Left Uganda based in Lugazi, outside of Kampala, the capital.

“It is a bit taboo in Uganda to be left handed, because your mother or parents at home would always beat the hand and say, ‘the left hand doesn’t eat’. In school, the teachers will still tap the hand of a child and say, ‘you are not supposed to write with your left hand’. So it is a problem,” he says.

[…]

Dieumerci Nugwaneza, another member of the Rwanda Left-Handers Club in Kigali, says that when he was in school, the teachers never explained how to write, but made them switch their hands.

Comments

  1. anat says

    I never understood the whole ‘food hand vs toilet hand’. Food preparation requires touching food with both hands. Also, hand-washing exists and should be used by everyone.

    Yahweh is described as right handed. There are so many verses about the might of his right hand, nothing about his left. There is one character in the Hebrew Bible who is described as left-handed, the ‘judge’ Ehud. He used his handedness to his advantage when he surprised Eglon king of Moab and stabbed him to death. The one place where there is repeated mention of using the left hand is in the Song of songs – love-making is a two-hands activity.

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