Mahlon Evans-Sinclair portrait

Written by Mahlon Evans-Sinclair

Mahlon Evans-Sinclair is an experienced educator with extensive participation in the fields of learning, professional & personal development, and EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).

A good rule of thumb is being able to articulate its relevance to yourself.

I often read many stories/recollections that involve identity markers as a descriptor.

I’ve reasoned with the many manifestations of how people use them and figure that whatever the expression, the main reason is to draw attention to something that seemingly has relevance to the story… but does it always…

A former colleague would often tell stories and when an identity descriptor would come up, they would often pause and say ‘and (e.g. race) is relevant to the story here because’… At first it would take me out of the story as I would wonder what the point of drawing attention to it was for, but the more I heard it being said, the more I felt comfortable and more understanding of its intention – It was a signifier for both the storyteller and the audience that the inclusion of this marker was intentional and why.

In thinking about how we use markers in education, sometimes we implicitly state things and expect that others instinctively know what we mean, or we (un)intentionally ‘add weight’ to the meaning of our stories by throwing in unexplained identity markers as though they are adjectives.

Consider for example that one of the students in a class has a learning difference that needs to be taken into account. It makes sense to say, ‘and this status matters here because (it will help with your planning/seating arrangements/conversations with them and their family)’. Consider that the same student happens to be the only non-white student in the class. Would stating that there’s a ‘Black kid with dyslexia’ in the class be helpful in the same way?

It’d be useful to think about what you’re actually intending to state.

– Is the race as important as the learning difference?

– Do the race and the learning difference compound?

– Are there no other ways of describing the student?

You could say that this would be simply solved by knowing and using the student’s name – yes(!) – however, we don’t always do this, especially when retelling a story to an audience who may not have the same level of connection to the subject matter.

So, consider when telling a story that involves an identity marker (such as race, gender, age, sexual orientation, physical or mental difference, etc), add in a clarifier of ‘their identity matters here because…’ and see if it actually does.