Friday, November 21, 2008

"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?


Doktor Frank Doe said...

Yup, I went through that in the early sixties as a child. My Dad would have a fit if I tried to write something with my left hand (which is what I favored at that early age). I do believe now in retrospect that it was what stunted my right brain creative talents. Gee thanks Dad! See our parents do screw us all up in one way or another, think I need therapy now.

MikeThe Blogger said...

In keeping with your baseball "English" I see you used the term "southpaw'. A good question is why is that name used for a left-handed pitcher.

The Minstrel Boy said...


Anonymous said...

Mike: “"southpaw'. A good question is why is that name used for a left-handed pitcher.”

You are kidding, right? I mean, everybody knows the answer to that trivia question.

But just in case, here goes.

Professional-level baseball stadiums are laid out deliberately to minimize the batter looking directly into the sun. A southpaw pitcher stands, therefore, on the mound with his left arm to the south. Thus, the batter is facing east and the sun sets behind him.

If baseball games were played at sunrise, rather than in the afternoons and evenings, we would, no doubt, be using the term “northpaw.”

And, yes, the Romans thought there was something slightly odd and creepy (“sinister”) about lefties. That’s because they were such a small (7 to 10) percentage of the population. To add insult to injury, those afflicted with the left handed gene are also more likely to suffer from other unpleasantness such as epilepsy, Down’s Syndrome, autism, dyslexia, and mental retardation. It should be pointed out that a secondary definition for the Latin “sinister” is unlucky. Not inappropriate.

Being left handed and thereby at greater risk of being subject to other unfortunate possibilities, is therefore a not entirely meaningless distinction. At the very least they will have to pay a higher price, due to price/production volume considerations, for dominant hand sensitive devices (for example, golf clubs and guitars).

Note also that the Latin word for right handed is “dexter,” from which we get words like dexterity.

Minority groups in a population are always subjects of discrimination, but perhaps lefties get off somewhat lightly. Consider that homosexuals, at 2 to 7 percent of a population, are “sinners.”

Uncle Grumpy is correct that, as a society, we are less harsh than we were a generation ago on our minority members. This has been accomplished by deliberate effort and has not been an easy or simple process. Change of any sort never is.

Still, Earl, a nice essay and a commendable overall sentiment.

The Minstrel Boy said...


i was so taken with this little piece that i linked to it on a blog where i contribute. i also encouraged folks to read your fine work.

let me know if your hits increase and i will be certain to link some more.

my post code is whigrie which, i believe is a tiny, almost microscopic clam native to mountain lakes in new zealand.

Anonymous said...

The Group News Blog is a good place populated by good people. I was surprised to see that name pop up here, though. I came to Earl’s place through my media bloggers (via Ken Levine, whom I think I found through Mark Evanier), and I went to the Group News Blog after Steve Gilliard’s untimely passing. Don’t remember if I initially found Gilliard through Atrios or Kos. I still miss him like crazy, though. What an unfortunate loss.

Anyhow, the commentators I see in my political blogs seldom appear in my media blogs. Just thought I’d remark on that. Apparently Earl transcends normal boundaries. Rock on, Earl.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the reference to lefties being sinister. You (excuse me - I meant Uncle Grumpy) might also have mentioned that in English, we use the word gauche to mean lacking social polish; tactless. It comes from the French, where the word for left is gauche. Put the two of them together and you get one of my favourite witticisms, (which I have seen attributed to various persons), namely that "The left in Canada has always been more gauche than sinister."
Good health to you and Uncle G and Dr. M. I look forward to an ongoing panoply of perspicacious posts.

The Minstrel Boy said...

i've been a big fan of earl's work for a long time. and i am also a veteran of the entertainment industry. i've been a professional musician most of my life, doing anything from vegas and broadway shows, to soundtracks, to jingles, to what ever they're paying me for right now.

guys like earl will tell you that they are joke writers, not social commentators.

i beg to differ yo.

i dig cowboys too earl, even though i'm an indian. i look cool in my stetson with eagle feathers.

drbopperthp said...

Minstrel Boy led me here from the GNB. I like what I see.

By Ken Levine said...

"Southpaw" comes from baseball. Major league parts are all positioned the same way to avoid the sun being in the batter's eye. The batter is looking Northwest. That means when a lefty is on the mound his pitching arm is to the south. Hence "southpaw".

Anonymous said...

Could it be that a left-handed compliment is being delivered by the inferior hand of a right-handed person, and is not a shot at left-handed people per sey?

Although, if lefties are more susceptable to non-beneficial genetic abnormalities, then maybe it's less than a genetic plus to be left-handed.

This is may not be P.C., but most predjudices are not picked out of thin air.

Anonymous said...

I'm left handed, and also am what is known as 'intellectually gifted', meaning that in high school I was put in a class where everyone got to skip year nine (or 'ninth grade' as crazy Amercian tv shows call it). It was weird, because about half the people in my class were left handed. So I think it is possible that as well as lefties having a higher propensity for genetic defects, we also have a higher chance of being highly intelligent.

The Minstrel Boy said...

don't be discouraged earl. the thread uncle grumpy provoked at group news blog was also focused on the surface issue of left-handedness and discrimination of the "other handed."

some people cannot grasp nuance at all. of course, having worked in sitcoms you already know that.

again sir. it was brilliant. please don't dumb stuff down to the base demographics.

(last night i was startled awake by the ghosts of begelman and silverman shudder)