KATRINA CROSBY WRITES – What is the line between cultural appropriation and culture appreciation? This question continues to pop up in today’s world. The most recent controversy involves an American girl posing for Prom … believe it or not.

Keziah Daum, an 18-year-old from Utah with exceptional sartorial taste, purchased a dress from a vintage store in Salt Lake City for her upcoming Prom. Since snapping a few photos to share on Twitter, she has become the target of severe outrage these past few days. As shown in her picture, she wore a Chinese qipao, even though she herself has no trace of Chinese ancestry.

To provide some background: qipao, or cheongsam, is a traditional Chinese garment that was often worn in the early 1900s. Now, however, the garment is used primarily for celebrations such as weddings and parties, not high school proms.

So is it appropriation or appreciation?

Although Ms Daum has claimed in a follow up Tweet that she views the dress as, “No disrespect to the Chinese culture,” and indeed as a way of “appreciation to their culture,” others are not so convinced.

Comments such as “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress” from Twitter user Jeremy Lam has over 41,000 retweets and over 178,000 likes. Another user, Jeannie, tweeted, “This isn’t ok. I wouldn’t wear traditional Korean, Japanese or any other traditional dress and I’m Asian. I wouldn’t wear traditional Irish or Swedish or Greek dress either. There’s a lot of history behind these clothes. Sad.” A user named Thao even reasoned why her actions should be considered appropriation: “She is wearing a traditional dress that is reserved for special occasions and by her, a non-Chinese woman, thinking she is entitled to our culture, she is profiting (does not necessarily mean $$) from it. That is cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is racism.”

Other comments question such outbursts. Matthew Rose asked, “Why are Americans acting offended at a dress when they literally dress like Leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day?” Another user, Jerry Wang, commented, “I don’t want non-POC to never be able to enjoy the beauty of another culture, least of all my own. However, I recommend true understanding of what is being appreciated. I would always suggest researching the name and historical context of a dress like this before sharing publicly.”

Perhaps surprisingly, Keziah Daum has received a good amount of support coming from online users in China. One commentator stated that the dress demonstrated “cultural appreciation and cultural respect.” Another user stated that the dress was not a problem “as long as there is no malice or deliberate maligning.” The topic of the dress has moved beyond Weibo to WeChat, as one user, Larissa, asked, “So does that mean when we celebrate Christmas and Halloween it’s also cultural appropriation?”

The line between cultural appropriation and appreciation can blur, as it does in this case. The best tip is simply to stay educated and sensitive. After all, her not knowing the delicacy of such a situation demonstrates gaps in cultural awareness of the American educational system. But the young lady sure was dressed to kill for her Prom.

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