There's Something Funny In The Milk And Honey

By Netia Banks-Larry

Instagram-famous author Rupi Kaur became notorious to the Tumblr community when it was revealed her well-known book of poetry "Milk and Honey" which tackles themes of racism, abuse and overall societal attraction, was actually plagiarized from black Tumblr poet Nayyirah Waheed.

When knowledge of Waheed's work first came to light, it was argued that only her writing style was copied by Kaur, but upon recent examination, this was found not to be the case. Waheed's themes as well as her signature use of hyphens with the poem's title either before or after it have also been used by Kaur. 

It is not that generational trauma cannot be documented and exploited by anyone, it is the principle of manufacturing content that is inauthentic, and being commercially successful while the person you gained "inspiration" from remains relatively unknown.

It is too big of a coincidence that Nayyirah's book, "Salt" came out a year before Milk and Honey. Nayyirah faced backlash, first with consumers calling her anything synonymous with "corny" and with Kaur's recent shoot to fame, she had a higher chance of being socially acceptable than Nayyirah.

It is fine to empathize with Kaur given the hardships she's documented, but she should still be held accountable for this action. Her being a victim does not excuse her from being problematic. 

A similar instance happened in 2014 when it was revealed that Ashanti's vocals were actually used for all but two verses of Jennifer Lopez's arguably biggest hit "I'm Real (Remix)". Ashanti was only credited on the remix as the background vocalist.

Now compare Ashanti's success to Jennifer Lopez's success during the 2000s, and whose career had longevity and whose did not. Ashanti, when asked about her involvement on the track, stated she was "happy, because it was JLo". 

Since Ashanti was unknown, she lacked the control to reject the selling of a track that could've solidified her career. even wrote an article praising Lopez's success discussing how "I'm Real" prevented the flop most artists face with their second album without mention of the fact that Jennifer's vocals are rarely featured on the track.

They even state how that song helped her reach "artistic authenticity" which pegs the question, how can you reach authenticity in your art when it's genuinely not yours? This applies to Nayyirah and Rupi's case again. 

What point of self-righteousness do you have to reach before you realize it took someone else's effort for you to get there? Black women are not entitled to being coddled the way nonblack women are. They stand in solidarity with themselves.

Some Kaur supporters had harmful images of black women with Priya Khaira-Hanks of "The Guardian" deeming those who defended Nayyirah "sneering keyboard critics". Most of the defenders were black.

If someone marketed off of your creation while claiming it was an original work, you would constantly express why your feelings are valid, and maybe even cause a scene. Black women have been conditioned to try their hardest to assimilate to others different from them. 

This is not anything new, for black women at least. Black women, respectively, want credit for the things they did first. Fighting for equality and forgetting about black women in the process is an issue all too familiar.