President Franklin Delano Roosevelt once uttered these majestic words: “We are going to make a country in which no one is left out.” In the more than 70 years since FDR announced his vision for America, we have made great strides in this direction. Millennia-old obstacles have been torn down for a number of aggrieved groups.
But there’s another, fundamental step we need to take if we are truly serious about eradicating all distinctions among human beings: Dexterity equality.
This is not to morally equate the plight of those who suffer from dexterity discrimination—left-handers—with the centuries of oppression suffered by others. Far from it. Nevertheless, consider these alarming facts about the life of the left-handed in this country.
What It’s Like to Be Left-Handed in America
Let’s begin with the dark history lying beneath even the naming of “left-handers.” The word “left” derives from the Anglo-Saxon word “lyft,” which meant “weak.” This form of discrimination is so old, and so widespread, that Wikipedia has devoted a site to it, titled “Bias against left-handed people.”
According to the site, although roughly 10 percent of the world’s population is left-handed, “many common articles are designed for efficient use by right-handed people, and may be inconvenient, painful, or even dangerous for left-handed people to use. These may include school desks, kitchen implements, and tools ranging from simple scissors to hazardous machinery such as power saws” (emphasis supplied).
An article by left-hander Nicholas Ferroni discloses that “the Latin word for ‘left’ was associated with the words for ‘sinister, ‘evil’ and even ‘unlucky.’ . . . In nearly every culture being left-handed is associated with something negative. . . . In Christianity, and even in other religions, the right side is associated with the favored hand of God, which means that the other side, the left side, is associated with the devil.”
The website, Lefthandersday.com, fleshes out the biblical intolerance shown to the left-handed. It finds that “Christianity is strongly based towards the right hand. It is the right hand that gives the blessing and make the sign of the cross. On one count, the Bible contains over 100 favorable reference to the right-hand and 25 unfavorable references to the left-hand.” It provides some examples: “The right hand of the lord doeth valiantly, the right hand of the lord is exalted” (Psalm 118: 15, 16). It adds that, in the Bible, “the devil is nearly always portrayed as left-handed and evil spirits lurk over the left shoulder (which is why you throw spilled salt over your left shoulder to ward them off).”
This Discrimination Deeply Affects Real People’s Lives
What have been the effects of this age-old prejudice? Consider the following statistics, as reported by Amanda MacMillan in Health.com: “It’s linked to stress in pregnancy.” According to a British study, “the fetuses of super-stressed pregnant women were more likely to touch their faces more with their left hands than their right.” A 2008 Swedish study found that “women who were depressed or stressed during their pregnancies were more likely to have mixed- or left-handed kids.” Other studies find that “babies with low birth weight, or born to older mothers, were more likely to be lefties as well.”
If things are rough for left-handers inside the womb, it gets worse once we are out. Left-handedness “can affect school performance.” A group of Australian researchers found that “left-handed kids performed worse than right-handers in several measures, including vocabulary, reading, writing, social development, and gross and fine motor skills.” Moreover, “mixed-handed and left-handed children are more likely to use the two halves of their brains in unusual ways, which may put them at risk for mild learning disabilities.”
Left-handedness is “linked to a risk of mental health problems.” A 2013 Yale University study found that the “left-handed are at greater risk of psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia.” How much of a “greater risk”? Much greater. “When researchers polled patients at a mental-health clinic, 40 percent of those with schizophrenia or schizoaffective said they wrote with their left hand; that’s considerably higher than the 10 percent of lefties found in the general population. Studies have also found links between non-right-handedness and dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and some mood disorders.”
It’s Even Linked to PTSD
It is not simply the minds of the left-handed that are at risk. Left-handedness is “linked to a higher risk of breast cancer.” A 2007 study discovered that “left-handers had a higher risk of breast cancer than right-handers, especially for cancer that occurred after menopause.”
Nor, apparently, is there any rest for those unfairly and often implicitly labeled wicked (remember that “left” derives from the Latin, for “sinister”). Left-handedness is “linked to some sleep problems.” Studies show that the left-handed “may be more prone to periodic limb movement disorder (PLMD), which causes patients to involuntarily kick and jerk their arms and legs while sleeping.” A 2011 study found that “left-handed people have significantly higher chances of having bilateral limb movements, indicating the potential for PLMD.’”
Left-handedness may “up the risk of PTSD.” A 2007 study “found that left-handers were more likely to display symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder after watching clips from a scary movie.” Moreover, a number of “other studies have found that non-right-handers experience more negative emotions.”
Being left-handed “might mean you earn less money.” A 2014 Harvard study “found that left-handed people’s salaries were, on average, 9 to 19 percent lower than their right-handed peers. (The gap between lefties and righties was $2,500 for men and $3,400 for women.)” The study also discovered that “left-handers were more likely to not attend or to drop out of college, and to work in less cognitively demanding jobs, like manual labor.”
This Is Systemic, Institutionalized Bigotry
It goes without saying that oppression as widespread as that recounted above cannot be accomplished without being systemic, that is, institutionalized. To see this, we need look no further than our common speech. The expression “to have two left feet” refers to clumsiness in sports and dancing. A “left-handed compliment” is not a compliment at all, but a sarcastic jeer. Ideas considered “strange” are said to “come out of left field.” A slap at left-handers’ cognitive abilities is implicit in the phrase, “The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.” (Why doesn’t the right hand ever not know what the left is doing?!)
Are we as a people brave enough, strong enough, and charitable enough to end thousands of years of unequal treatment of left-handers? “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” So spoke President Barack Obama, himself a left-hander.
But how are we to accomplish the change that we seek? Here, the cutting-edge work of our universities can lend a hand. A growing number of our schools have put in place “safe spaces” for those suffering oppression, which can include what these campuses term, “micro-aggressions.”
We commend these schools for taking on the task of full education, which includes character formation, and we therefore suggest that the left-handed have their own safe space, complete with left-handed scissors, left-handed writing desks, and portraits on the walls of famous left-handers, of which there is a surprisingly large number, despite their second-class status.
Safe Spaces Aren’t Enough
But the real change we need if we are truly serious about absolute equality is to pass LERA, the Left-handers Equal Rights Amendment. Following the (as-yet-unfulfilled) vision of the Declaration of Independence, LERA’s Preamble states its case in classic language:
We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all hands are created equal. That the left-handed minority, no less than the right-handed majority, is endowed with certain unalienable rights—and lefts, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights—and lefts—governments are instituted, deriving their just powers from the consent of both right- and left-handers. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right—and left—of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.
The content of LERA also derives from a classic source: The U.S. Constitution. Following the template provided by several civil-rights amendments, the LERA consists of two simple sentences. LERA states: (Section One) “The right—and left—of citizens of the United States shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of handedness.” Section Two states: “The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”
Drawing as it does from both the letter and spirit of the Declaration and Constitution, it will be hard for potential opponents of this proposed amendment to deny that LERA is not “100 percent American.” Indeed, for Americans to oppose this historic effort is not who we are. To pursue this quintessentially American agenda, the new advocacy organization NOLO, for No One Left Out, will advance the case for the need for LERA in all 50 states.
We worry that some establishment critics will invoke their right privilege and scheme to dismiss our cause as a joke: “We have more important problems in this country,” they will say. To those who assert this ideological staple of right supremacy, as has been done for at least 2,000 years, we remind them of the alarming statistics documented above. We left-handers suffer more illness, make less money, are more depressed, and are more likely to suffer accidents.
Why do we suffer disproportionately when compared to the right majority? Because we were born this way.