Somewhere in the organic chemistry curriculum, the concept of chirality must be introduced. The usual and customary example is the human hand, which which is generally issued as a pair; a right and a left. In fact the very word “chiral” is derived from the Greek word for “hand.”
In the macroscopic world that we inhabit, most of the things that are “handed” are solids, like the brass threads on a compressed gas tank. Compressed oxygen threads are right handed, while fuel gasses are left handed. It’s so important not to confuse the two they were designed to be impossible to be accidentally threaded into one another.
Today the mental image that might pop into one’s mind when we think of “black leather glove” is O.J. Simpson and the infamous courtroom one-liner “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit.” But many years ago the black leather glove created another media sensation; this time it was two leather gloves, and two men.
The scene was the winners podium at the 1968 summer Olympics in Mexico City. The following photograph became infamous almost overnight:
The Wikipedia entry on the incident provides an interesting backstory as to why Carlos is wearing a left handed glove:
Both U.S. athletes intended on bringing black gloves to the event, but Carlos forgot his, leaving them in the Olympic Village. It was the Australian, Peter Norman, who suggested Carlos wear Smith’s left-handed glove, this being the reason behind him raising his left hand, as opposed to his right, differing from the traditional Black Power salute.
But unlike a hand, which is solid and three dimensional, a glove is topologically a two dimensional surface, at least in the sense that it has two sides, an inside and an outside. Since most of us have no practical reason to be turning gloves inside out, we often don’t consider a glove to be “sided” as we think of a sheet of paper as being two sided.
So if a topologist had been on the podium with Carlos and Smith, they might have proposed that Carlos evert Smith’s glove, and so maintain a degree of symbolic consistency.
And to prove that this is not just a flight of fancy of mine, I went to the trouble of everting my own black leather glove to show it really works! Here is a right handed glove worn on my right hand:
The same glove turned inside-out, worn on the left hand: