Literary Feuds

Do ‘sad brown girls online’ write the same? Plagiarism charges against poet Rupi Kaur start a debate

New voices in writing and poetry online challenge the popular notions of belonging and home.

When poetry is plagiarised on the internet, the backlash is swift and arguably disproportionate. On July 24, Twitter users accused Indian-origin poet Rupi Kaur, author of the bestselling book Milk and Honey, of plagiarising a fellow Tumblr poet, Nayyirah Waheed. The issue was further complicated when Waheed’s fans pointed out that the African-American poet tried to initiate a dialogue with Kaur about the similarity in their work months ago, and was rebuffed. Kaur and Waheed’s work are similar in structure and metaphor, but they have this in common with several female of poets of colour that are writing on the internet. A quick guide for navigating the world of brown poets on Tumblr:

In the classroom of life, there are the inevitable archetypes: the know-it-all, the late bloomer whizkid, the underserved underachiever, and, more familiar to some of us, the model minority.

And then there’s the critic.

In recent years, new voices in writing and poetry have come to the forefront, challenging both parochial and popular notions of belonging and home. Many of these have been women, and an increasing number of women of colour at that. Part of this is inevitably the sheer talent and brilliance of these women of colour, while another part is, for better or worse, the growth of these women of colour as a marketable commodity within a larger publishing industry run by white people. Either way, you’d think their presence and contributions to the fields would be appreciated given long years of same-old-same-old, especially by their peers.

You’d think. Where I hang out on Tumblr, I don’t see it. I see comments like this one, written by a second-generation South Asian young woman:

“...feels like this weird inability those of us in diaspora have to see ourselves and our lives and experiences as whole. a few years ago, i fell hard for all that sad brown girl poetry, characterising all of us as missing pieces or being stuck between two places. i still feel it sometimes, sure. it’s a real thing, and i’m not gonna dispute that, but i’m so bored of giving credence to this idea that the second-generation immigrant experience... is inherently lesser and built on some vaguely mango-flavoured nothingness.”

As someone in the second-generation myself, I’m polarised by this message. I generally agree that romanticising the homeland is a petty and foolish endeavour, especially for people like me who have very little access to that homeland on a material basis. But I’m saddened by this user’s blunt reflection on her contemporaries. Is that all these new voices get to be even among their target demographic: sad brown girls?

I don’t know about you all, but I smell a stunt.

The accusation

Like most ethnic creations, there is no one hard-line formula that will produce the optimal desired melancholy, mahogany product. The term first bubbled up on Tumblr back in 2013 or so, in the wave generated by Warsan Shire’s nomination to the position of Young Poet Laureate of London, but the originator and context is seemingly lost to the sands of time at this point. What I have below is a general recipe, culled from my ethnographic experience deep within the field of brown creative scene Tumblr.

sad brown girl.
at least one (1) immigrant parent
one (1) estranged native tongue
2 or 3 whole crossed oceans
1 cup chopped mangoes (may substitute coconuts or tamarind)
1/2 oz feeling of not belonging in homeland + 1/2 oz feeling of not belonging here (mixed)
a vial of tears
pinch of turmeric
pinch of cheek by doting auntie
salt and alienation to taste

Now, if I was a ruder person, I could also market this as a crude attempt at satire of the genre as a whole. Basically, the sad brown girl is equally as foreign to whites as she is colonised by whites and blue as hell about it. Common themes include: guilt over parent’s sacrifice, being unavailable to both white and brown boys (sometimes girls), watching Bollywood movies with subtitles, cooking daal as good as parent, etc.

The term itself isn’t perfect. Warsan Shire, apparent progenitor in the genre, is an ethnic Somali, making her solidly black in the eyes of most, not necessarily brown. It could be said that the term is some sort of answer to or rejection of the “carefree black girl” trope that has gripped the internet in the past few years, in which case – yikes, can we let black people, black women especially, have one thing for themselves? Regardless, the term is here and we’re living in its aftermath; take its attributions with a grain of salt. (Or a grain of brown rice, I guess.)

The accused

The OP of that post doesn’t name names, but I guarantee you any person of colour who has reblogged at least two posts on Tumblr in the past week will get a certain vibe from the phrase “sad brown girl poetry”. I’ll offer a few examples of the various genera associated with the genre. Consider this exercise both a criticism of the critics and a handy list of writers to keep in your literary back pocket.

Nayyirah Waheed

Nayyirah Waheed is a writer based in the United States. She has authored two collections of poetry, salt. and Nejma.

Like many devout Tumblrites, I bought Nayyirah Waheed’s first collection of poetry, salt., which she promoted heavily on the microblogging platform before its release in 2013. Was I impressed? Honestly, yeah, and I’m not a poetry person in the slightest. Her poems were initially published on Tumblr to great response; a typical one, lands, has over 18,000 notes. The poems are short, some just three lines long, but they pack a punch. In the age of 140-character limits, maybe this is all poetry needs to be, or at the very least this is all we can need from poetry. Short as they are, they are sharp reflections on pain, alienation, and separation from origins and sources of love, precise and incisive as a doctor’s scalpel.

Regardless, Waheed endured endless scorn from established Tumblr cultural critics for her format choices and the perceived corniness of her work. Perhaps due to the relentless viral popularity of her posts, she became a symbol of the overhyped poet, one who just happened to write from the diaspora, and quite boldly at that. A typical comment: “Nayyirah Waheed really did take Warsan Shire’s monopoly on sad brown girl poetry.” For a while in 2014, reblogging a post with her trademark signature “ – nayyirah waheed” was shorthand for, roughly: this is just an adjective away from being bad poetry, or, alternatively: chill out, brown person, it’s not that deep.

Waheed herself became infamous for publicly reblogging and calling out detractors, fostering accusations that she was an insecure ham who couldn’t take criticism. One line, however, resounds particularly sharply: “what is wrong with tending to our diasporic wounds out in the open. loudly. with no caution?”

Rahila Maajid

Rahila Maajid is a writer based in London, UK.

Waheed herself was successful in this endeavour, more so than others. Evoking the name Rahila Maajid on Tumblr, on the contrary, is akin to an aesthetic blogger’s Bloody Mary. Maajid was a polarising figure on Tumblr for her poetry, then later for her aggressive answers to questions asked and allegedly false incrimination of another Tumblr user for sexual assault, the receipts of which (text messages between her and an infamous blogger known as Kia) went viral as evidence that the poet was, egads, problematic. Later, she was run off the site after she was exposed for lying about her race, having claimed she was black and using the n-word liberally when, all evidence would suggest, she was solely of Desi heritage. For the time that she commanded the spotlight, however, she offered raw, unpolished glimpses into her diaspora blues. A few excerpts, whose source posts are now long gone:

“i would rather be mute than let my tongue dance to the loose rhythm of your mother tongue.
your mother is evil.
don’t you know.”

“i meet girls like me
with eyes as dark as dried blood clots lips torn.
she rubs her hands on my face
and sees my future’s map.
i ask if the seas still bleed
she says pain will never be a stranger but merely a teacher.”

“your grandmother’s eyes are browner than your skin
and they water when you sink
and grow when you float to shore.”

Now, she wasn’t a total hack: in 2014, she was featured in a Lonely Londoners exposition, “Keep the Water Coloured”, which premiered at Trispace Gallery in Southwark. Regardless, for the in-crowd on Tumblr her name is still synonymous with shock value and brown mediocrity. She’s popped up in ghost trails from time to time, but for now she’s settled down into the digital dust, a memory and a myth all at once.

Rupi Kaur

Rupi Kaur is a Punjabi-Canadian writer of both written word and spoken verse. She has published one collection of poetry and prose, milk and honey.


A post shared by rupi kaur (@rupikaur_) on

Rupi Kaur. Photo credit: rupikaur_/via Instagram

Rupi Kaur is in seemingly every bookstore here in my city, and for good reason: her writing is fresh to most. Her debut collection, milk and honey, was released followed a viral controversy in which a photo containing menstrual blood was removed from her Instagram. In terms of what she writes about? She is among a small number of South Asian women who writes openly about sexual assault, which has been a godsend for more than a select few. As far as her general aesthetic goes, let her tell it herself:

“i always felt that being a woman of colour who is an immigrant to this country (i am from punjab and settled in canada). i was always stuck between two worlds, but never fully belonging to one. on a land that does not want me. coming from a land that no longer considers me its own, i had no place to call mine. i never felt beautiful enough, not for western standards or eastern standards. i had to build the bridge between these two worlds and attach them together to build my own foundation. perhaps that’s been the greatest struggle.”

If Sad Brown Girl was a comic book heroine, this would be her first diary entry. Now, Kaur is my age (that is to say, fairly young), and I guarantee you there are endless virtual binders of brown girls who can identify with what she is saying. Still, some of her peers aren’t buying it: one of the most recent posts in the Rupi Kaur tag on Tumblr, cites Kaur’s being overrated as an “unpopular opinion”. Another takes her to task for her menstruation manifest: “Yes, our periods are natural. But you know what? So is shitting. However, you don’t see people posting pictures of shit and worshipping it.” (The latter user later took back their statement and apologised for their shortsightedness.) Basically: some brown girls think she’s pedestrian, simply too one-of-them to be exceptional. Now, these are bitter pepper-flakes of critique dotting a foamy Venti latte of appreciation, but the internet is a fickle place; one of these haters will inevitably have their thinkpiece moment sometime soon.


Maza Dohta, Safia Elhillo, Ijeoma Umebinyuo, everyone featured in The Coalition Zine


A post shared by p a v a n a 🦄 (@mazadohta) on

Maza Dohta. Photo credit: mazadohta/via Instagram

The Defence

As something resembling a brown man, I have to beg the question: why are we making our women into fodder when so much of our existences hinge on brown womanhood? For myself as an Indo-Caribbean, brown womanhood is equal to resilience, strength, and survival amidst the very present realities of rape and forced labour, as well as the passage of wisdom and the creation of creole cultures. We can also surely attribute food and folk tales to the brown women in our lives as well. When I walk in my neighbourhood, it’s brown women who smile at me, who say thank you when I awkwardly step to the side to let them pass, who compliment me sweetly on my outfit and my smile.

Brown women in the creative field, especially brown creatives in the public eye, are far from indefensible or beyond critique. Truthfully, though, I don’t see half as much of this invective directed at Remi Kanazi, Vikram Seth, or Abhay Kumar, let alone other creatives like Aziz Ansari or Zayn Malik, whose rightful comeuppance seems to exclusively come from brown women. (It’s only recently that critical discourse has touched upon Desi slam poetry duo Darkmatter, whose members identify as nonbinary trans – before then, their word had been near dogma for many.) The question at hand is, why are the feminine among us exclusively deemed corny, reductive, or myopic in their craft?

To which you might respond: none of those other artists are corny; they present complex, developed, and well-executed musings on their emotional longings and the distance between homeland and present. Here’s the thing: I guarantee you they were corny at some point. I guarantee you they didn’t always write so eloquently or artistically. But someone – a mentor, friends, or some incendiary self within themselves – saw the potential in their work and praised them, gave them feedback, and encouraged them to continue improving their ideas and expression. No one would ever think to pigeonhole any of the men listed above as “sad brown guys” or any variant thereof.

So, honestly, why don’t we extend that same respect to our women creatives?

I’m not saying that Nayyirah Waheed is the end-all-be-all of poetry, let alone sad brown girl musings. But if you really have an issue, engage, don’t tear down. All egos aside, most creatives generally want to be nourished; I guarantee you very few of us, creative or not, respond well to being maligned and made fun of. If your favourite poet is on Tumblr and responds to their messages, send them a few questions or – ancient as it may seem – e-mail them. Write your thinkpiece (or think-text-post) with language that is respectful and curious rather than accusatory. Talk to your friends or your local brown girl gang and start a conversation as to whether or not these poets represent you after all. Or, if you’re able, write some poetry of your own! If these poems really aren’t for you, the best you can do is write something better.

A parting note

At the end of the day, homegirls aren’t paying attention to the haters. Warsan Shire had a high-profile feature on Beyoncé’s most recent magnum opus, LEMONADE, elevating her poetry to a new level of appreciation and a completely new audience. Rupi Kaur just gave a TED Talk. More and more brown girls are using platforms like Tumblr to gain exposure and fans. As is typical and routine for brown women and girls, despite the immeasurable odds they are excelling – and thriving.

I am bless to say, that I am very thankful that Beyonce had recited one of my poem's in her lemonade album

A post shared by Warsan Shire (@warsanshire__) on

Warsan Shire. Photo credit: warsanshire__/viaInstagram

Thanks to Priyanka M. for providing editorial feedback.

This essay originally appeared on Burnt Roti, a London-based magazine for South Asian communities around the world. It has been republished with permission from Burnt Roti editor, Sharan Dhaliwal.

We welcome your comments at
Sponsored Content BY 

Top picks, best deals and all that you need to know for the Amazon Great Indian Festival

We’ve done the hard work so you can get right to what you want amongst the 40,000+ offers across 4 days.

The Great Indian Festival (21st-24th September) by Amazon is back and it’s more tempting than ever. This edition will cater to everyone, with offers on a range of products from electronics, home appliances, apparel for men and women, personal care, toys, pet products, gourmet foods, gardening accessories and more. With such overwhelming choice of products and a dozen types of offers, it’s not the easiest to find the best deals in time to buy before your find gets sold out. You need a strategy to make sure you avail the best deals. Here’s your guide on how to make the most out of the Great Indian Festival:

Make use of the Amazon trio – Amazon Prime, Amazon Pay and Amazon app

Though the festival officially starts on 21st, Amazon Prime members will have early access starting at 12 noon on 20th September itself, enabling them to grab the best deals first. Sign up for an Amazon Prime account to not miss out on exclusive deals and products. Throughout the festival, Prime members will 30-minute early access to top deals before non-Prime members. At Rs 499/- a year, the Prime membership also brings unlimited Amazon Prime video streaming and quick delivery benefits.

Load your Amazon pay wallet; there’s assured 10% cashback (up to Rs 500). Amazon will also offer incremental cashbacks over and above bank cashbacks on select brands as a part of its Amazon Pay Offers. Shopping from the app would bring to you a whole world of benefits not available to non-app shoppers. App-only deals include flat Rs 1,250 off on hotels on shopping for more than Rs 500, and flat Rs 1,000 off on flights on a roundtrip booking of Rs 5,000 booking from Yatra. Ten lucky shoppers can also win one year of free travel worth Rs 1.5 lakhs.

Plan your shopping

The Great Indian Sale has a wide range of products, offers, flash sales and lightning deals. To make sure you don’t miss out on the best deals, or lose your mind, plan first. Make a list of things you really need or have been putting off buying. If you plan to buy electronics or appliances, do your research on the specs and shortlist the models or features you prefer. Even better, add them to your wishlist so you’re better able to track your preferred products.

Track the deals

There will be lightning deals and golden hour deals throughout the festival period. Keep track to avail the best of them. Golden-hour deals will be active on the Amazon app from 9.00pm-12.00am, while Prime users will have access to exclusive lightning deals. For example, Prime-only flash sales for Redmi 4 will start at 2.00pm and Redmi 4A at 6.00pm on 20th, while Nokia 6 will be available at Rs 1,000 off. There will be BOGO Offers (Buy One Get One free) and Bundle Offers (helping customers convert their TVs to Smart TVs at a fraction of the cost by using Fire TV Stick). Expect exclusive product launches from brands like Xiaomi (Mi Band 2 HRX 32 GB), HP (HP Sprocket Printer) and other launches from Samsung and Apple. The Half-Price Electronics Store (minimum 50% off) and stores offering minimum Rs 15,000 off will allow deal seekers to discover the top discounts.

Big discounts and top picks

The Great Indian Festival is especially a bonanza for those looking to buy electronics and home appliances. Consumers can enjoy a minimum of 25% off on washing machines, 20% off on refrigerators and 20% off on microwaves, besides deals on other appliances. Expect up to 40% off on TVs, along with No-Cost EMI and up to Rs 20,000 off on exchange.

Home Appliances

Our top picks for washing machines are Haier 5.8 Kg Fully Automatic Top Loading at 32% off, and Bosch Fully Automatic Front Loading 6 Kg and 7 Kg, both available at 27% discount. Morphy Richards 20 L Microwave Oven will be available at a discount of 38%.

Our favorite pick on refrigerators is the large-sized Samsung 545 L at 26% off so you can save Rs 22,710.

There are big savings to be made on UV water purifiers as well (up to 35% off), while several 5-star ACs from big brands will be available at greater than 30% discount. Our top pick is the Carrier 1.5 Ton 5-star split AC at 32% off.

Personal Electronics

There’s good news for Apple fans. The Apple MacBook Air 13.3-inch Laptop 2017 will be available at Rs 55,990, while the iPad will be available at 20% off. Laptops from Lenovo, Dell and HP will be available in the discount range of 20% to 26%. Top deals are Lenovo Tab3 and Yoga Tab at 41% to 38% off. Apple fans wishing to upgrade to the latest in wearable technology can enjoy Rs 8,000 off on the Apple Watch series 2 smartwatch.

If you’re looking for mobile phones, our top deal pick is the LG V20 at Rs 24,999, more than Rs 5000 off from its pre-sale price.

Power banks always come in handy. Check out the Lenovo 13000 mAh power bank at 30% off.

Home printers are a good investment for frequent flyers and those with kids at home. The discounted prices of home printers at the festival means you will never worry about boarding passes and ID documents again. The HP Deskjet basic printer will be available for Rs 1,579 at 40% off and multi-function (printer/ scanner/ Wi-Fi enabled) printers from HP Deskjet and Canon will also available at 33% off.

The sale is a great time to buy Amazon’s native products. Kindle E-readers and Fire TV Stick will be on sale with offers worth Rs 5,000 and Rs 1,000 respectively.

The Amazon Fire Stick
The Amazon Fire Stick

For those of you who have a bottomless collection of movies, music and photos, there is up to 60% off on hard drives and other storage devices. Our top picks are Rs 15,000 and Rs 12,000 off on Seagate Slim 5TB and 4TB hard drives respectively, available from 8.00am to 4.00pm on 21st September.

The sale will see great discounts of up to 60% off on headphones and speakers from the top brands. The 40% off on Bose QC 25 Headphones is our favourite. Top deals are on Logitech speakers with Logitech Z506 Surround Sound 5.1 multimedia Speakers at 60% off and Logitech X300 Bluetooth Speaker at 58% off!

Other noteworthy deals

Cameras (up to 55% off) and camera accessories such as tripods, flash lights etc. are available at a good discount. Home surveillance cameras too will be cheaper. These include bullet cameras, dome cameras, simulated cameras, spy cameras and trail and game cameras.

For home medical supplies and equipment, keep an eye on the grooming and personal care section. Weighing scales, blood pressure monitors, glucometers, body fat monitors etc. will be available at a cheaper price.

The sale is also a good time to invest in home and kitchen supplies. Mixer-grinders and juicers could see lightning deals. Don’t ignore essentials like floor mops with wheels, rotating mop replacements, utensils, crockery etc. Tupperware sets, for example, will be more affordable. There are attractive discounts on bags, especially laptop bags, backpacks, diaper bags and luggage carriers.

Interesting finds

While Amazon is extremely convenient for need-based shopping and daily essentials, it is also full of hidden treasures. During the festival, you can find deals on telescopes, polaroid cameras, smoothie makers, gym equipment, gaming consoles and more. So you’ll be able to allow yourself some indulgences!

Small shopping

If you have children, the festival is good time to stock up on gifts for Diwali, Christmas, return gifts etc. On offer are gaming gadgets such as Xbox, dough sets, Touching Tom Cat, Barbies, classic board games such as Life and more. There are also some products that you don’t really need, but kind of do too, such as smartphone and tablet holders, magnetic car mounts for smartphones and mobile charging station wall stands. If you’re looking for enhanced functionality in daily life, do take a look at the Amazon Basics page. On it you’ll find USB cables, kitchen shears, HDMI cables, notebooks, travel cases and other useful things you don’t realise you need.

Check-out process and payment options

Amazon is also offering an entire ecosystem to make shopping more convenient and hassle-free. For the festival duration, Amazon is offering No-Cost EMIs (zero interest EMIs) on consumer durables, appliances and smartphones, plus exchange schemes and easy installation services in 65 cities. HDFC card holders can avail additional 10% cashback on HDFC credit and debit cards. Customers will also get to “Buy Now and Pay in 2018” with HDFC Credit Cards, as the bank offers a 3 Month EMI Holiday during the days of the sale. Use Amazon Pay balance for fast and easy checkouts, quicker refunds and a secured shopping experience.

Sales are fun and with The Great Indian Festival offering big deals on big brands, it definitely calls for at least window shopping. There’s so much more than the above categories, like minimum 50% off on American Tourister luggage! To start the treasure hunt, click here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of and not by the Scroll editorial team.