Why a Sikh poet called out white feminists for changing her poem without permission

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A Sikh poet named Jasmin Kaur has responded to people – particularly white women – who shared a changed version of her poem after Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed into the Supreme Court.

The poem in question is about the silencing of Sikh women and their voice. The poem starts with the word ‘scream’, but it’s been changed to ‘vote', a reference no doubt to the midterm elections.

After the poem - which was altered without Kaur’s permission - went viral, the poet was compelled to respond.

In an Instagram post accompanying an image which says ‘stop passively consuming the work of women of colour', she wrote:

 The irony of this shitty poem edit is so blatant that I need to unpack it. Recently, a terribly edited version of one of my poems started making its rounds in white feminist spaces (swipe). The word scream was replaced with vote. I figured that people would clearly be able to see how this isn't cool, but I guess I was wrong. Let's break this down.

As a kaur - a Sikh woman - I write to disrupt my erasure from the world. From media, from feminist discourse, from social justice spaces, from everywhere. This poem, specifically, was inspired by my reflection on the way that kaur voices have been erased from history in many ways and the pain I have felt as a direct result of that.

One of her many fans uploaded the edit on Facebook, and it received more than 18,000 shares.

In a bizarre twist of irony, a poem about her voice was changed to erase it.

She was scathing and succinct in her response to those sharing her edited poem:

I write to exist. To be seen. To hold a mirror up to myself + women who look like me. In a world that very selfishly consumes the work of women of colour and marginalized folks. If you share my poetry (or your version of my poetry) without actually understanding who I am and why I am, you're engaging in my work passively. If you, as a white person, feel that I matter so little within the context of what I create that you can remove me from the work all together, you're colonizing my poetry.

In a later Instagram story update, she said that women – white women in particular – have taken to sending her messages apologising for sharing her poem, and asking if they can contribute funds anywhere.

Kaur directed them to Ensaaf, an NGO that works to end crimes against humanity in the Punjab region of India.

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