“My culture is NOT your…prom dress.” These words were tweeted by Jeremy Lam, a man of Chinese ancestry, in response to a teenage girl’s prom photos in which she is seen wearing a Chinese style garment. Ever since, the story has become viral, dragging the cultural appropriation argument with it into the media spotlight.
Those that are offended by Keziah Daum’s prom dress say that they’re standing up in defense for the cultural history behind her dress, called either a qipao or a cheongsam. They say that her actions are insulting to Asian-American heritage and tradition. However, even liberal media outlets have undermined this line of reasoning. CNN published an opinion piece written by Jeff Yang, a Taiwanese American journalist, in which he seems to defend Daum, speculating that the teen from Utah might be more educated about the history of the style than many of her online harassers. He also debunks the claim that the style is rooted in Chinese tradition. The same day, an article titled “Teenager’s Prom Dress Stirs Furor in U.S. — but Not in China” was featured on the New York Times.
But this doesn’t stop people from being outraged. That’s because social justice theory dictates that one cannot participate in certain aspects of cultures, like food or dress, outside of their own. It doesn’t matter if you do so respectfully and in a manner that doesn’t offend the people whose customs you are “appropriating”. The truth is that cultural appropriation, in its modern definition, doesn’t require any real wrongdoing besides stepping across racial and ethnic boundaries and exposing yourself to different ways of life. This rationale is pretty consistent with the intersectional left, who have become increasingly reliant on race to forward an agenda that is designed divide people based on identity groups.
Conservatives scoff at cultural appropriation because the phrase is so inconsistently used by the left. Overwhelmingly, people cry out appropriation when the alleged culprit is a white person. It doesn’t require much deep thought to figure out that if Keziah Daum wasn’t white, her decision to wear a Chinese style dress to prom would be surrounded by little to no controversy. White culture is very commonly adopted by people of color, but nobody pays attention. Usually in cases like these, when the left unfairly targets white people, or the rich, or conservatives in general, the right will expose the hypocrisy and call on the left to enforce their own principles. For example, when the left calls the Republican party a group of science deniers because they don’t believe in expanding government bureaucracy to fight climate change, the counter-argument will be directed at the science of gender. The criticism, of course, is that the left is forwarding the idea that gender is a social construct and is unconnected to biological sex. If the right wanted to follow a similar path, it could encourage the fair criticism of all cases of cultural appropriation, no matter the background of the person engaging in another culture.
However, there is no reason to shame most cultural appropriators. It’s healthy in a society for different groups to share customs and traditions. The last time Americans were taught to self-isolate themselves from other cultures was during the era of segregation. When it comes to borrowing practices from people of other racial and ethnic groups, actual instances of disrespectful conduct should be called out. But for the most part, the exchange of language, cuisine, and attire will prove beneficial to a united population in the future just as it has done before. The belief that the best way to avoid offending different peoples is to completely evade their culture is neither tolerant or courteous. It is regressive and is contradictory to the achievements of the last few hundred years of racial equality activism.