Despite my interest in human biodiversity, I don’t write much about lefthandedness, mostly because it is so lacking in political relevance. In fact, lefthandedness is interesting for what it says about why some minorities become politically salient and others do not.
For example, at some point in the first half of the 20th Century, there was a hugely successful Lefthanders Liberation movement that succeeded in persuading parents and teachers not to force lefthanders to write righthanded. Three Presidents in a row were born lefthanded, but Reagan (born 1911) was converted to writing righthanded as a lad, while Bush the First (b. 1924) and Clinton (b. 1946), were not. Considering, how much the media is enraptured with stories of the overcoming of social prejudices, you’d think this would be a natural topic. Yet, PBS doesn’t see fit to celebrate Lefthanders History Month. Indeed, I have only the haziest understanding of how this important social change came about. I have a pet theory that the rise of lefthanded baseball stars like Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ted Williams, and Lefty Grove contributed, but there is so little concern with this topic in the press that I’ve never seen it addressed.
So, why are lefthanders not recognized as an a valid minority in our minority-obsessed media?
First, lefthanders aren’t a racial minority (using my definition of a racial group as a “partly inbred extended family“). A review article of research on lefthanders by Monica Watkins reports that lefthanded is only modestly hereditary in the narrow sense:
Porac (1976 as reviewed in Coren 1992) completed a three year study of 459 Canadian families. Results were similar to eleven former studies ranging from 1913 to 1982. If neither parent is left-handed or if only the father is left handed, the child has a 1:10 chance of being left-handed. However, if only the mother is left-handed, the ratio is 2:10. Finally, if both parents are left-handed, the chance rises to 4:10. Therefore, as Porac states, even under “genetically optimal” circumstances, the chance of right-handedness is still much greater than the chance of left handedness.
Second, lefthanders aren’t an ethnic group either (using my definition of an ethnic groups as ones defined by shared traits that are often passed down within biological families — e.g., language, surname, religion, cuisine, accent, self-identification, historical or mythological heroes, musical styles, etc. — but that don’t have to be). Lefthanders are somewhat less common in some ethnic groups due to cultural animus (e.g., Germans were very anti-lefthanded), but I’ve never heard of anybody who tried to turn their kids into lefthanders (other than some baseball crazy dads, since lefthanded hitters have a couple of advantages).
Perhaps a closer analogy to lefthandedness might be homosexuality, which has much political salience although it’s neither racial nor religious, but sexuality is much more fundamental to identity. Further, homosexuals have much stronger motivations to seek each other out than lefthanders, and homosexuals engage in, uh, bonding experiences, while lefthanders do not.