Demography is “the statistical study of human populations.” We usually think of it in polling, politics, and marketing with the word, demographics, “the characteristics of human population segments, especially for identifying consumer markets.” Each human is a complex composite of multiple demographic labels.
For product marketing we establish categories by gender, age, and income. For clothing we come in sizes–regular, long, short, petite, plus, children and adult. Some characteristics are permanent acquired at birth, some acquired, and some transitional by preference, enlightenment, or maturity. In political polling we like to identify people by level of education, offering statistics to imply intelligence or mental ineptitude. We measure religion by affiliation or frequency of church attendance. We establish names for age groups—boomers, millennials, or generation X or Y, to define our decades. Children get in free, pre-teens with a child’s ticket, and seniors get 10% off on Wednesdays. Target caught some grief for eliminating gender signage.
Some Liberals have relabeled as Progressives for a better image. Some Republicans prefer the labels Libertarian or Conservative. We tend to divide Christians as Evangelicals, Catholics, and Liberal. We identify race by country or continent of origin, or some standard of skin tones. By the time you add marital status, sexual orientation, gun ownership, home owner or renter, occupation, pro-life or pro-choice, religious or spiritual, theist or atheist, we all have a multiple demographic profile.
We have heard and read statistics until we believe we can anticipate what someone thinks by the combination of demographic identities. As a mens’ clothier I spent years studying the science of apparel profiling. It probably was more accurate than most of the data in marketing and political studies.
There are two layers of visual demography, the clothing that covers one’s body and the anatomy and skin tones that identify us by race and gender. The content of the mind and heart which determine what we buy, how we vote, and what we believe are not so obvious.
Consequently, we have adopted the practice of affixing labels. For polling purposes, the pollsters have to depend on information derived from the interview. If the person says he or she is a Republican or Democrat, the interviewer would not have immediate access to voting records. If the person affirms membership in a particular Protestant denomination, the interviewer would assume that to be accurate.
The confusion in labeling and demographics is that some labels are affixed by the wearer and some labels are affixed by others often from prejudice and misinformation. Labels that an individual might wear with pride might be viewed by others as offensive or inherently inferior. Our religion and our politics are acquired characteristics, more cultural and academic than genetic. There may be some exceptions for geographic isolation and generations of inbreeding. There is also cyclical generational rebellion to parental indoctrination. This is also complicated by our attitudes about unity and diversity, and the quest to expand our sphere of influence to those who disagree or are perceived to be different.
Labels identify characteristics of choice and those derived at birth from a loving and indiscriminate God, and the principles and anomalies of reproduction. With our limited knowledge of each individual we often think of demographics as dichotomous. We tend to divide people into two, usually contradictory, categories or opinions. We think liberal and conservative, with some assumption of party affiliation. We think of things as spiritual or secular, of good and bad, of right and wrong, or right and left. We have affixed the prefixes of exclusion—un, anti, and non to identify our adversaries, and those who are “not our kind of people.”
We have created bumper stickers, buttons, lapel pins, hats, caps, and religious headgear to establish immediate agreement and distrust. These affirmations of affiliation have created a propensity for pointless conversation among the argumentative, and a concurrent silence among the timid and the apathetic.
Earlier this week one of my friends who wears the label conservative with the same comfort level with which I wear the liberal label responded with some words of wisdom to a speech I had made. He made a passionate appeal for us to learn to respect each and listen to each other. He thanked me for having liked something he posted on social media. I find the same warm feeling when one of my conservative friends likes or agrees with something I write.
The best form of labeling, and the most meaningful designation of demographics, is the name that our parents bestowed on us and validated on a birth certificate. There is a line from a song from a movie that includes the phrase, “me, a name I call myself.” When someone prefaces a sentence with “I think” or “I believe” logic should tell me those ideas are essential parts of who they are. Unless those ideas have the potential of harm, or include hatred or ridicule, they should go unchallenged. More importantly, when they include an obvious truth or a premise worthy of consideration, they deserve some commendation or invitation to rational dialogue. Labels should not be impermeable barriers between friends, or denial to access at the table of reason.