Appropriation or Appreciation

Many overreact and hate on an American teen from Utah after she surprisingly wore a traditional Chinese qipao (Chee-Pao) to prom.

Picture from flickr taken by Gary Stevens

Picture from flickr taken by Gary Stevens

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Long and flowy dresses are what generally come to mind when people say prom, and traditional Chinese dresses are usually not what you would think of. Eighteen year old Keziah Daum became famous after she posted pictures of prom showing her wearing a qipao on Twitter. This upset many Chinese people because they thought she was disrespecting Chinese culture. The definition of cultural appropriation is “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society,” according to the Oxford Dictionary.

A qipao is a traditional Chinese dress that is usually red with a flowery print and worn on special occasions such as Chinese New Year.

Growing up with Chinese parents, I don’t particularly recall enjoying wearing qipaos – I thought of them as being very uncomfortable and itchy. I was dressed in qipaos when I was young for fancy outings with family in China. Thinking back on it, I never realized how beautiful the qipao was until I grew out of it.

Wearing another culture’s clothing is not cultural appropriation at all, but wearing a qipao to an American dance is something nobody probably would have expected. After all, culture is open for everyone to enjoy.

An angry tweet surrounding this controversy read, “My culture is not your prom dress.” I understand where this type of thinking is coming from, but I believe she was not wearing the dress to mock Chinese culture, but instead to appreciate the beauty of it. In a tweet Daum posted, she said “I don’t see the big deal of me wearing a gorgeous dress I found for my last prom. If anything, I’m showing appreciation to other cultures and I didn’t intend to make anyone think that I’m trying to be racist. It’s just a dress.”

In reality, cultural appropriation is happening right before our eyes everyday without us realizing. I vividly remember a trip to my grandfather’s hometown in China, where we stayed a few days in the mountains. I remember seeing vendors renting tourists outfits for $20. The outfits were traditionally worn by Chinese people, and vendors were renting them so tourists could take pictures in them. There were ridiculous props the tourists could use in their picture, one being a donkey. I didn’t notice anyone being upset about this, and I didn’t understand why everyone thought it was just a “joke” and could laugh it off. Making cash off of a culture is just a horrid act.

In another tweet, Daum said, “I’m simply showing my love for a beautiful culture and there is nothing wrong with that.” I agree, because each and every culture is beautiful in its unique way, and anyone should be able to appreciate it.

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