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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

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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.

There’s nothing special about the genetics of people living in China that makes them less likely to be lefties. Chinese-Americans are just as likely to be left handed as any other Americans. The lefties in China are actually switching their dominant hands. Why? Because it’s simply more difficult for them to stick with their naturally dominate hand than for people in Europe of the United States. Many Chinese characters require a right hand, says Discovery News.

Elsewhere, stigma against lefties still exists. Discovery News reports:

 In many Muslim parts of the world, in parts of Africa as well as in India, the left hand is considered the dirty hand and it’s considered offensive to offer that hand to anyone, even to help. The discrimination against lefties goes back thousands of years in many cultures, including those of the West.

Even the word left comes from “lyft” which meant broken. The German words “linkisch” also means awkward. The Russian word “levja” is associated with being untrustworthy. Synonyms for left in Mandarin are things like weird, incorrect and wrong.

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”.

While today in the United States and Europe, left handed kids aren’t punished and retrained, these same sorts of biases still exist in large parts of the world, proving that righties are just as capable as being sinister as lefties.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Is My Cat Right- or Left-Handed?
We’re Biased By Our Body’s Dominant Side

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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