Growing up left-handed in South Georgia during the mid-sixties was to catch the last remnants of a time when left handed people were considered just short of evil. Both my grandmothers, and assorted other older relatives berated my parents for allowing me to be raised as one of “The Devil’s Children”. My first grade teacher called my parents to see if they wanted her to “break me” of being left handed. My penmanship had already begun to be, and to this day still is, terrible. Most of my teachers blamed it on me being left- handed, but that was only the beginning.
I was twenty years old when I met someone who had been born left handed but had been hit often enough he learned to become right handed instead. Because he was a bit older than I, he was raised in a culture a little more steeped in superstition than I had been. Also, because he was born into the poverty ridden African American culture of the mid 1950’s Southern environment, religion and superstition was something he was exposed to much more often than education or science. He secretly practiced writing his name left handed until he was taken out of school as a teenager, which was common in The South in those days. Young black men did not have a future that did not involve manual labor, and as much as it was a white man’s world, it was also a right hand world.
Working in a wood yard where trees were cut up into logs, and loaded onto rail cars sent to a paper mill, was not a job of enlightenment or deep philosophy, but it did give me a change to discuss what the world looked like through the eyes of a poor black man whose education extended all the way into the ninth grade of High School. He had been taught that being born left handed was wrong. He had been taught that being born black was wrong. Until desegregation occurred he was taught eating in the same room with white people was wrong, and he ought to be beaten if he tried such a thing. By the time he and I met, it was far too late for him to think about education, but one thing he did was learn to write his named left handed, and he also learned how to spell Czechoslovakia. One of his grade school teachers offered to bring him a can of peaches, and let him eat the whole can by himself, if he learned to spell Czechoslovakia. It was something he learned to do that once, and was so proud of the accomplishment, he retained the knowledge for the rest of his life. ( I had to enlist the help of the spell checker, by the way)
For those of you who grew up after the sixties and even the early seventies, it is alien to you to consider arresting someone of one race for daring to eat in the same restaurant as someone of another race. Hopefully, it’s alien. Equally as odd, is the idea that left handed people are somehow related to, or in association with, some supernatural and evil deity. Imagine how it would feel to be told you would not be served in a restaurant because of your race. Imagine how it would feel to be hit with a stick just before being left handed. Hell, I imagine there were a lot more people hit with sticks back then for being black than for being left handed.
You think this odd, cruel, and unjust. Well, hopefully you think it’s odd, cruel and unjust. If you were part of the problem then, you just might be part of the problem now, but then again, considering my point of view on the subject, I strongly doubt anyone who is part of the problem is one of my loyal readers, unless it’s someone who enjoys having their ignorance pointed out to them on a regular basis. Of course, someone might point out being left handed isn’t quite as obvious as melanin. As my friend was trained not to be left handed, alas! No amount of beating could teach him to be lighter in skin tone. Not that certain groups of people didn’t try back then, but once more, we now see that as cruel, and unjust, do we not?
If you agree that we do see this as cruel and unjust, you might want to reconsider who we are, because there is a great deal of cruelty and injustice being served out today. Great progress has been made, for there is a very dark and very left handed man in the White House today, but that does not mean the cruelty and injustice is a thing of the past, as Czechoslovakia. Okay, what part of that did you not know; the dark, left handed, or Czechoslovakia?
What I ask for you today is to consider who you see as left handed. If you have no qualms at all about someone being left handed, and are at a loss as to why anyone would, might you extend that sense of puzzlement to race, religion, gender, mating preference, or even to some attribute you have never considered before? Where are your prejudices and why are they there? Who put them there, and when did they put them there, and why are you allowing them that space? Do they deserve it?
We, as a species, as a country, as a culture, as people, we must of course consider some people to be dangerous and wrong. Serial Killers, Child Molesters, War Mongers, Religious Fanatics, and all of those who would make profit off the misery of others are people rightfully considered a threat to our existence. Yet to this day, far too many people see far too much wrong in far too many others whose only fault is to be born who they are, and what they are, and to no harm to anyone else at all.
For the most part, we left handed people are no longer beaten for it, but that does not lessen the burden of others, who are still considered for no good reason at all, as the Devil’s Children.