Nothing Without Us

In focus: Finding identity with Bennie Kara

Episode Summary

"I haven't got the knowledge. You know, we're sharing knowledge, we're transmitting that knowledge between us, we're shaping it between us. And sometimes that comes with truths, you know, things that are hard to swallow, things that are unpalatable, to kind of keep extending this metaphor. And that's okay."

Episode Notes

"I haven't got the knowledge. You know, we're sharing knowledge, we're transmitting that knowledge between us, we're shaping it between us. And sometimes that comes with truths, you know, things that are hard to swallow, things that are unpalatable, to kind of keep extending this metaphor. And that's okay."

In this distilled episode, Angie talks to Bennie Kara about finding her identity in terms of both race and sexuality.

You can find the full conversation in Episode 6 

Bennie Kara is a deputy headteacher in the East Midlands, specialising in curriculum, teaching and learning. She started her career in the inaugural cohort of Teach First in 2003, teaching English in East London. Since then, she has taught in four London boroughs and in South Oxfordshire, before returning to Derby.

Bennie speaks, writes and trains on diversity in the curriculum. Alongside supporting schools to diversify their curriculum, she is the author of 'A Little Guide for Teachers: Diversity in Schools' (Sage Education). She has written on the subject of diversity for publications such as Schools Week and the Chartered College of Teaching's Education Exchange. She is a supporter of the grassroots online movements such as @WomenEd, @BAMEednetwork and @LGBTedUK, and has featured as a keynote speaker for @DiverseEd2020 and the Team English National Conference. Bennie is also on the executive team of @SLTchat.

Find Bennie at

Connect with Angie on her website -

A full transcript of this episode can be found at

This podcast was written and presented by Angie Browne. Original music was by Martin Austwick. The series is edited and produced by Big Tent Media and Emily Crosby Media

Episode Transcription

Angie Browne  00:01

Hi, I'm Angie Browne and you are listening to the Being Luminary podcast, the podcast where I sit down with every day, but by no means ordinary thought leaders to talk about being luminary in life and in work. 


Angie Browne  00:21

Bennie Kara thank you so much for coming in, in this conversation with me.


Bennie Kara  00:28

I would say my people, my ancestors, certainly kind of in the last couple of centuries have been very nomadic. So kind of originating from the backdrop, and then getting on the dowels and sailing across the ocean to Africa, following the gold trade, my family, my so certainly my mother, and my grandparents and my father and his parents on his side, or being born in Africa, and being part of the colonial story. And then moving to the UK, I've always felt like, you know, I haven't really got kind of a fixed nationhood, or I certainly felt like that when I was growing up, you know, it was I Indian was I African, was like British. So this idea of like, the question of place has always been part of my, my thought processes. And it's very much something that my mother experienced as well. So she told me recently that when she was in Africa was when she was about sort of six years old, she realised that she wasn't African or she, she couldn't be African, or certainly though, she was made to feel like she wasn't African, even though she had been born there. And there were lots of political troubles, there were lots of racial tensions. And so she pinned her identity on kind of the motherland, as, as, as it was known at the time, she went to a school where she had English teachers. And so she felt an affinity with England. And so when she found out that they were leaving East Africa and coming to England, she said, it felt like a homecoming. And then she got to, she got to England and the National Front, were marching outside her door, and telling her she didn't belong there either. And so my experiences are not that, you know, I didn't grow up like that. But that kind of questioning of who you are, and where you come from, and where you belong, has been part of my story from the beginning. And in some ways, has been quite disruptive. When I have written before about how my rejection of my home culture and my home language started really early. And where that came from, I guess there wasn't a single source, it was this, understanding that being Asian being majority in Western society was something to not necessarily be proud of, kind of manifested in odd ways, you know, a kind of absolute refusal to go to Gujrati school to learn, you know, the intricacies of my own language and choosing French, and being really clear that I'm choosing French, because I think my home language is backward. And so, you know, I feel like I've had kind of the those adverse effects of not really feeling like I belong to a particular place kind of manifests later on. And then certainly, as I grew older, becoming really conscious of know, literally where to stand in a room. And I've spoken about this before, when I went to college, I was born in Leicester, and I was educated in Leicester. And it was seen as the multicultural hub of the UK. And it was absolutely divided. In fact, my college common room where you could literally draw a line down the middle in all of the Asian people would be standing on one side, and all of the white people would be standing on the other. It was it was pretty stuck. And nobody had told us do that. It was just the way it was. And it was often divided in subject lines as well. So the Asian population of the college, we're doing kind of maths and sciences, and the white population of the college we're doing predominantly, language arts, that kind of subject and there I was, as an Asian woman doing English, French and History going right now. Which side of the room we're standing on. Right away go. Sort of hovered around the middle. Oh, fascinating. Yeah. So there's, there's been, you know, I don't think I've ever come to this work as a victim. But I've certainly come to this work with the absolute understanding that belonging is something that I have had to consider in the way that some other people don't. And I think that's not just true race and culture. I think it's, it's true in terms of sexuality. So finding that people's reaction to you changes according to kind of what you define as your sexuality. So I'm a woman that I don't know I'm bisexual, and I was in predominantly been in relationships with women. And then how does that place me that there are some men who don't know how to treat me as your girl but you're not interested me. So how do I how do I function? Why do you fit in the narrative of my life? So So it is something that fascinates me. It used to keep me awake at night. So now I think


Angie Browne  05:06

I really am particularly gripped by what you said about your kind of rejection of say language lessons choosing to do French instead, and your positioning of yourself then outside of a culture outside of a home space outside of a group, can you talk to me a bit more about that, that insider outsider role that you've played and where it where it manifests itself, and I guess I'm really interested in that bit of, of when you've chosen to place yourself as outsider and what kind of context that comes up in. 


Bennie Kara  05:49

I think, you know, we're certainly at that point, I went to a school where it was 99%, Asian, it was a really Asian community. So there was an element of me placing myself as an outsider in rejecting my culture. And perhaps there was a little bit of arrogance there as well. But you know, I wanted to be different, I wanted to be seen, as you know, and I say this with no, with no irony is better. You know, and my understanding of what better meant, was not doing a home language, it was doing, you know, perhaps a European language that somehow that would elevate me, above my peers. And there were there were issues with that in itself, you know, I, I wasn't necessarily kind of part of the in crowd at school, I was seen as a slightly different


Angie Browne  06:35

What were the in crowd doing out of interest in your school? 


Bennie Kara  06:38

they were they were going to drive the school, they were, they were, you know, doing good at GCSE, they were kind of following perhaps maybe some of the there's might consider to be stereotypes. And because I'd set myself this, I don't know whether it was a conscious thing, or an unconscious thing, this task of being different. Yeah, I felt different, I wanted to be different. You know that that feeling of being an outsider started quite early. And I grew comfortable with that, quite quickly. What I wasn't comfortable with was what happened when I left my very Asian community, and then went into a world where actually there was a mix of cultures. And suddenly, I had to place myself in a completely different way. And that, in some ways, was quite damaging. Because I think that's when you start to get a real exposure to some of the inequalities and some of the kind of perceptions and the problematic ideas around race and belonging and culture. And I didn't have that when I was growing up, I just had this kind of belief that the European way was better. And that's probably kind of just absorbed, going away from the kind of college situation, I ended up doing English Literature at Warwick. And I would say that there were probably a handful of Asian kids, I cannot think of a single black kid, my course at the moment, like off the top of my head, I can't think of anyone. And so I was thrust into this environment, this kind of really intellectual environment with this very kind of, you know, studying English Lit literature. And I looked completely different from everybody else. And there were Asian people at Warwick, but they tended to kind of join kind of Asian societies. And I didn't, I joined English Lit society, and was the made them make me the vice vice president, which is a testament to how I behave, and in most most of my life, that I didn't have Asian friends. At university, I hung out with a group of almost exclusively white people. It was not necessarily a deliberate choice. You know, everybody on my course was white, pretty much. But I didn't seek out the company of people who looked like me. Yeah. And I didn't really see that as an issue. Again, still feeling like there was some kind of difference in me, that meant that perhaps I had bettered myself. Yeah. And that's, that's a really hard thing to admit.


Angie Browne  09:15

I really really hear you. 


Bennie Kara  09:18

Like, you know, I recognise the flaws in that. And I recognise that kind of self loathing of mine, like the loathing of my culture, and that that completely embedded mentality of you know, what is better? Yeah. When I talk about that, and it didn't even occur to me in that space that I was perhaps cutting myself off from things that were actually quite important to me. I'd already sort of given up I guess, my access to my ancestry by not being the language that those conversations I could have had with my grandparents about my heritage. I didn't have the lexicon to be able to do that. For me, that's so profound that that kind of that's, that's the reality of it. Yeah. What I chose to do was replace everything that was true. The truth about me with something that I believed was better. And that message and I never, I don't remember somebody telling me that I don't, I don't remember someone holding a placard saying, you know, to be a good person to be popular or successful, you have to be like, like white people. But I definitely felt it early on, I'd absorbed that message. And it really, I guess, the first time I felt like an outsider, and not by choice was when I did my teacher training. So I did my teacher training in 2003. I was a little bit older than the rest of my cohort where we're, you know, in Warwick still, or had you had, you know, I'd actually gone on to a graduate training programme, and I was doing teacher training in Canterbury, again, you know, there was no deliberate exclusion of me as an individual, but I was so ridiculously conscious of my difference in that environment. And to this day, I do not understand what it was that made me feel so marginalised and so unable to access, the kind of conversations, kind of the social interactions of some of my peers. I had grown up in inner city, Leicester, I'd gone to Warwick, which is not Oxbridge. You know, we were very proud that we're not Oxbridge. But I was surrounded by people who were very different life experiences to me. And that was the first time really, and no one did anything deliberately. You know, everyone was really lovely and kind of affable. But I didn't fit in. I didn't fit into that crowd at all. 


Angie Browne  11:57

It's so interesting. So nobody did anything deliberately. But I guess what I'm hearing is that nobody did anything consciously to ensure that you were included.


Bennie Kara  12:15

I think I think the metaphor about bringing people to the table is a good one, because now I'm bringing people to the table, but I'm not putting the food on the table. And, you know, this is, this is where I've made it very clear that I will do some of the work, I will lay some of that table, and I will bring some of those dishes. But I'm expecting you to bring something with you to that table as well. And you know, that that's the beauty of sitting at the table in the you know, somebody will curate what they need to know, and what the, the what knowledge they're bringing, and they will come with questions. And we can have the discussion at the table because there isn't a power dynamic there. I haven't got the knowledge. You know, we're sharing knowledge where we're transmitting that knowledge between us, we're shaping it between us. And sometimes that comes with truths, you know, things that are hard to swallow things that are unpalatable want to kind of keep extending this metaphor. And that's okay. Because when we sit down and we eat a meal together, there are some things that we don't like, but we're still eating together. And if I have said anything kind of over and over again in the last few months, it's very much that Well, I will provide you with some of the tools, but I will expect people to go away and do the work because it's tiring, otherwise, it's very tiring. Yeah.


Bennie Kara  13:35

I really, I really, really appreciate what you just said. 


Angie Browne  13:41

Thank you for listening to the Being Luminary podcast. I would love to hear your thoughts on a podcast. So please do leave us a review. Each month I will be picking one of our reviewers to get a free laser coaching session as a thank you. And remember, if you know a luminary or an everyday thought leader who would benefit from listening to this podcast or who would love to be featured on the cast, then please do share it with them. 


Angie Browne  14:10

This episode was presented by me Angie Browne, original music is by Martin Austwick. The series is edited by Big Tent Media and produced by Emily Crosby Media