12/22/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Uncle Grumpy -- On Race"

Here we go, boys and girls. It's Uncle Grumpy - on race. Please, always remember. It's Uncle Grumpy talking. Not me.

Uncle Grumpy. Not me.

My grandmother was left-handed. She told me how, when she was a kid, the teachers would strap her left hand to her side, and force her to write with her right hand.

Why did they do that? Because the culture of that time believed that left-handed people were biologically inferior. Worse than inferior. They were bad. Do you know what the Latin word for "left" is?


Left-handed people were considered to be sinister. Why? It was never explained.

Wherever you looked, the interests of left-handed people were ruthlessly ignored. The world belonged to the right-handed, and everything was tailored to their needs. Scissors. Can openers. Notebooks. (The coiled wire rubbed on the lefty's arm.)

Negative messages insinuated themselves into the language. You've heard of a "left-handed" compliment? That is not a good compliment. "Southpaw?" I don't know its derivation, but just the sound of it -- "southpaw" -- it doesn't make you wish you'd been born one. In the reactionary culture of baseball, left-handed pitchers were viewed as unstable, bordering on crazy.

Left-handed children were stamped as a lower category of humanity, suffering treatment consistent with their status. Throughout in the culture, the message was crystal clear:

Right-handed. Good.

Left-handed. Bad.

At some point, maybe science had something to do with it, maybe folks just came to their senses, there was a liberating change. The "handedness" issue became irrelevant. It was as if a light had been turned on. "That stuff is all wrong!" People thought back on the demonization of the left-handed and it was like:

"What were we thinking?"

Finally they had realized the obvious: "Handedness" was something you were born with. Valuing one hand as being superior to the other hand was ridiculous.

After centuries of misbehavior resulting from a mistaken belief, the concept of "handedness" came to be seen as what it had always been:

A meaningless distinction.

I thought you were talking about race, Uncle Grumpy.

Uncle Grumpy?

Earl Pomerantz's blog can be reached at earlpomerantz.blogspot. com