One Magical Evening?
It was supposed to be a magical night to remember, unfortunately for one high school senior her prom night would be remembered for all the wrong reasons. And it all started because of a dress…
You won’t believe this story.
Gearing Up for Prom
With April winding down and May quickly approaching, senior Keziah Daum had one thing on her mind: prom. Like many other high schoolers across the country, Keziah and her friends were buzzing with excitement. They had picked out their outfits, rented a limo and were ready for a fun night to remember.
Unfortunately, Twitter had other plans.
The Prom Dress
One aspect of prom that Keziah was most proud of was her stunning dress. A crimson and gold ensemble that was heavily influenced by Asian culture, she knew she was going to stand out from the crowd of fellow students. Anxious to show it off, she quickly posted a picture on Twitter.
To her surprise, the reaction was way more than she bargained for.
While Keziah did receive some positive comments, it seems a portion of the Twitter-verse was not too impressed with her dress. In fact, some of the reactions were downright nasty.
But why? It’s just a prom dress!
The Case of the Cheongsam
The truth behind Keziah’s prom attire seemed to be what sparked the most contention. The style of dress that Keziah chose is formally known as a “Cheongsam dress,” and holds quite a bit of significance within the Chinese culture.
It seemed the problem with Keziah wearing such a culturally sensitive garment was because she happened to be white.
Simply a Beautiful Dress
Now, on the surface, it’s hard to understand why anyone would attack this young woman. The dress was beautiful and she simply was trying to look unique for the big night. Sadly, as we all know, the Internet doesn’t seem to see all sides of the story and can be quite unforgiving.
Culturally Insensitive Comments
Some of the comments that were tweeted were absolutely disgusting with some people saying: “She looks better than any Chinese girl would anyways” or “She fills it better than a Chinese would.”
Of course, these comments only ignited the fire and things quickly got out of hand.
Claiming Cultural Appropriation
Many Asian Americans on Twitter were quick to call out Keziah for cultural appropriation. Now, in case you aren’t aware of the term, cultural appropriation is a sociological concept which deals with the adoption of the elements of a minority culture by members of the dominant culture.
In this particular case, Keziah as a white woman was wearing a Chinese garment that could be viewed as appropriation.
What’s the Big Deal?
While some may point out that the dress is beautiful and she is in no way mocking or insulting the Chinese culture, it’s important to point out that cultural appropriation is deep-seated with an imbalance of power and colonial element when it comes to the history of Chinese Americans.
A History of Cheap Labor
During the 1800’s, the United States began building the Transcontinental Railroad, which was meant to go from “sea to shining sea.” Of course, being such a huge project, they were extremely short on workers. Therefore, many barons hired desperate Chinese immigrants at low pay in an effort to fill out the workforce.
Immigration for Chinese immigrants during this time was not a good process. They were given very few rights and paid extremely little for life-threatening work. Many racist white Americans treated them horribly, underpaid their salaries as well as mocked their culture.
Therefore, you might understand why a young white girl wearing a Chinese dress might be a problem.
Pain from the Past
While many of you may think that people have gotten over the mistreatment of Chinese Americans, the pain from the past still lingers strong. So while Keziah believed she was making a unique fashion choice, to others the dress was an insulting reminder of mistreatment they wished to forget.
As more and more people shared the prom photos on social media, Keziah’s post soon went viral. Media began to weigh in on the dress controversy, while others slammed Keziah for being an insensitive racist. But was that really her intention?
Racist or Unaware?
When it comes to examining this incident, it’s important to understand Keziah’s original intent. She simply wanted to wear a dress that would stand out as different at prom. There was nothing truly malicious about it. However, her post still was blown way out of proportion. However, the post did bring up the importance of systemic racial issues that are still prevalent today.
Now there are other occasions where white women will wear the garments of other cultures. For example, in Indian weddings, the traditional female dress is the sari. Most women in the wedding party will wear the sari as a sign of solidarity. Of course, the prom situation is quite different.
The Rise of Cultural Diffusion
Over the past decade, we’ve seen a rise in cultural diffusion, where the mixing of cultures has been a force for positive change. Just look at New York City for example, where you can indulge in a wide variety of cuisine from different countries and can hear over half-a-dozen languages simply by walking down the block.
Unfortunately, Keziah lived in Utah, where the community was predominately white, which in turn created a problem.
Minority cultures continue to view the adoption of non-European cultural aspects as cultural appropriation. However, think about all of the white people who now drink Chai tea thanks to Starbucks or participate in weekly Yoga classes. Both from different cultures and you’re not seeing much of an uproar.
With all of the uproar over her dress choice, Keziah chose to go to the media to explain her side of the story. She revealed that her friends, family and even school faculty approved of her dress, so she didn’t see it as something negative. In fact, she believed just by wearing it she was celebrating the Chinese culture.
But did the Asian community see it that way?
An Asian Perspective
Surprisingly, many Chinese citizens had only positive reactions over the incident. Some even were excited to see a white woman wearing a traditional qipao.
Is it possible Americans are just too uptight?
A Positive Step in Cultural Blending?
According to some Keziah’s choice has been seen as a sign of cultural blending and that the Western world is beginning to accept Asian culture into the mainstream. Of course, there are others who believe that dressing up in such attire is the equivalent to blackface or pretending to be an Indian.
One Asian American on Twitter believed that if Keziah was Chinese and wore a qipao she wouldn’t have been so accepted. In fact, she believed that Asian communities could not wear traditional garb without being accused of not being American.
Hostility At Its Worst
Of course, some reactions were just plain hostile. Accusing Keziah of being a racist and misrepresenting a minority culture.
Thankfully, this type of extreme outrage was few and far between.
The Disney Princess Conundrum
Cultural appropriation has been a large topic of debate when it comes to Disney and its culturally-diverse princesses. Whether it be Mulan or Pocahontas, the question remains…is it appropriate for a little white girl to dress up as their favorite princess?
Regardless of your stance on the issue, the incident with Keziah and her prom dress was a situation where many believed foreign culture was immediately accepted when in the past it has been publicly rejected. Others feel it’s showing respect for other cultures. Despite which side you take, the issue is definitely on a slippery slope.
Taking a Stand
Despite the vocal opinion on her choice of prom attire, Keziah continues to plead her innocence in the situation and enjoyed her prom night regardless. What do you think? Did she do right by the Chinese culture or was it a cultural affront that deserved to be called out?