I never knew I was a lefty until I left for school. At home, it was a non-issue, almost unnoticeable. I was a young girl, full of life, ready to face the world and enjoy what it had to offer. I was prepared to learn, to grow, to fly, but one thing was sure, I was not psychologically prepared to be the odd one out in almost every gathering, to be in the minority. Neither was I ready for the stare downs that accompanied each bite of food eaten in public with my left hand. It was thought to be so alien in the little town where I was raised and as a result, considered not outrightly abnormal but definitely subnormal. Gradually, the society began to force me into believing that I was different and perhaps strange. Different is good, but strange I won’t take. Therefore, I have lived every day of my life trying to resist and reject that mentality.
Growing up in Africa, Southwestern Nigeria to be precise, was tougher than you can imagine. There is this absurd idea and popular misconception that the left hand is polluted, contaminated and disrespectful. At Kindergarten stage, when the teacher held our hands to assist us in writing, it was always a tug of war with me. This was a lot easier compared to giving and receiving things. On several occasions, of which I have lost count, I have been blatantly insulted for giving and receiving with my left hand. I have been called in Yoruba “onibaje omo”, meaning a spoilt child, or sometimes “alaileko” (untutored). But little did they know that this was innate. I was not trying to disrespect anyone, I was just living in my natural state, the way I was created.
One of the many repulsive experiences I have had was when ushers in Church returned my offering and asked me to give it “the proper way”. The nicer ones didn’t return my offerings but offered me a pathetic look, which I can very much remember to this day. Using the famous Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s phrase, “it is funny in the way sad things are funny”.
Another that struck me was when as a youth corps member, teaching Civic Education at a secondary school, I had to write on the board and my students burst into uncontrollable laughter. I was furious, but then I realized, it’s really not their fault. Their view of right or wrong had been coloured by the society that having a dominant left hand was wrong. I didn’t let that go, I re-orientated them that your left hand is secondary, mine is primary, what’s the fuss about? Do not discriminate against left-handers, they are perfectly normal human beings, only that left-handedness is far less common than right-handedness, research shows that approximately 10% of the world’s population is left-handed. Yes, we are in the minority but don’t marginalize us even further.
The mere fact that the left-hand is less preferred does not make it less important – would you rather you had two right hands and no left hand? And that was how I addressed it. I didn’t let it go. And I felt I had done something good for the innocent left-hander somewhere who has no voice, who is being painfully forced to change her dominant hand from left to right. Research has proven that this is often dangerous. It reduces them to an utter state of confusion, makes them timid, makes them clumsy, it suppresses their creativity, gives them low self esteem and the list goes on and on. This is so sad and should never be encouraged.
Many machines and equipment are designed with the right-handers in mind. For instance, I have never seen a sewing machine that favours left-handers, all have a right-hand wheel. Same for tin-cutters, scissors, and generators. In school, we are forced to use the uncomfortable right-handed desks to write. And to give a hand shake which is the world’s standards way of greeting, you have to do it the “right” way. It is just interesting to me how the world makes little or no provisions for the left-handers. But hey, August 13 (which coincides with my birthday) has been named International World Left-handers Day, to create awareness about the inconvenience faced by left handers and to reverse the myths attached to the left hand.
Left-handers are trailblazers, captains of industries, world leaders, and innovators. I am sure you know that being in the Southpaw club with Barack Obama, Steve Forbes, Leonardo da Vinci, Tom Cruise, Whoopie Goldberg, Hugo Sanchez, Babatunde Raji Fashola, and Oprah Winfrey is being in good company.
To all left-handers, you are worthy of being taken seriously. Therefore, take pride in your left-handedness. There are heroic men and women of history who were proud left-handers. Respect right-handers but never forget to also respect left-handers even more. Don’t accommodate insecurities, don’t see yourself as odd, rather see yourself as different and, please, celebrate and respect that difference.
To all right-handers, especially adults, please never ever correct a left-handed child because, really, there is nothing to correct and no error to rectify. For her, using her left hand is right, don’t judge her based on your own definition of right. Let her be, let her grow, let her be secure, and above all, let her be happy.
To humanity in general, stop playing this right-left-hand binary game. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
© 2017 Toyosi Babalola
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