My Culture is Not Your Prom Dress

By: Joanne Wang

Prom season has just come to a close in a flurry of boutonnieres, corsages, flowy dresses, and tuxes. For many teen girls, finding a dress to wear at prom is one of the biggest challenges; everyone wants to look elegant, while also expressing their own unique styles.

One Utah teen chose to wear a traditional Chinese dress to her prom. This type of dress, called a qipao, is known for its figure-hugging silk, high collar and beautiful patterns. A qipao is typically worn to formal occasions and is especially important during celebrations like the Chinese New Year.

Keziah Daum wore a red qipao decorated with gold flowers at her prom. After she shared her prom pictures on Twitter, she received huge waves of backlash and accusations of cultural appropriation.

“My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” Jeremy Lam said on Twitter in response to Daum’s post. “For it to simply be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience is parallel to colonial ideology.”

Daum responded to the backlash by saying that she meant no disrespect and that she does not regret her decision.

“I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture. I’m simply showing my appreciation to their culture,” Daum said. “I would wear it again.”

Daum did also receive support for her dress choice. Approval even came from many native Chinese.

I am of Chinese descent and own several traditional Chinese dresses. My heritage and culture are very important to me: They are big parts of my life and integral pieces of who I am. It does not please me to see my culture appropriated. Cultural appropriation is the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing understanding or respect for that culture. Yes, some may argue that Daum was simply admiring the Chinese culture, and maybe she was, but I see this as part of a larger problem of ignorance.

I believe that if you take the time and effort to learn about a specific culture and understand it, you have every right to use and embrace parts of that culture. If Daum had actively educated herself about Chinese traditions, it would be totally acceptable for her to wear a qipao to her prom.

There is nothing wrong with curiosity about other cultures. In fact, I encourage people to go out and learn about different heritages and backgrounds. It is extremely important to be educated about all the wonderful traditions in this world. In recent times, we have become an increasingly homogenous population, which is a growing issue. We need to preserve our cultural differences and embrace them.

Assimilating to popular culture is becoming more and more common, which is harmful to our societies. The growing homogeneous culture can have consequences: It stifles progress and innovation, weakens the capacity for critical thinking and limits our abilities to see different perspectives. Our cultural differences allow us to share different perspectives and ideas, enabling improvement and innovation in our societies.

Overall, it is wonderful for people to get out there and educate themselves about the different cultures present in our world, but there is a fine line between embracing a culture and appropriating it. We need to avoid cultural appropriation so that we can preserve our cultures the right way.

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