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Point/Counterpoint: Prom dress sparks debate on cultural appropriation

Wylliam Smith, [email protected]

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High-school senior Keziah Daum was met with backlash on Twitter for wearing a Chinese-style dress to prom.

While high-school student Keziah Daum had no ulterior motive for wearing a traditional Chinese dress, the Internet exploded, calling her out for cultural appropriation.

Cultural appropriation is a loaded term that has constantly been thrown around lately. It came up when children dressed up as the titular movie character Moana, and it was also a subject of controversy when Black Panther was released.

Cultural appropriation is a difficult hurdle to approach head-on. One of the main problems behind it is, when you appropriate someone’s culture for the mere fact that it “looks cool,” you then reduce that culture to nothing more than a gimmick.

Many people are asking why she can’t wear the dress, but the real question is, why did she wear it? With all the gorgeous prom dresses out there, why did she choose this one?

I realize this girl had no intention of making anyone upset; she didn’t tag the photo with any mean or racist comments, she merely tweeted “PROM.” But in the end, her intent does not really matter if it is offensive to some people.

Perhaps if she explained in her original tweet where the style of dress originated from or why she wore it, or merely hashtagged #culturalappreciation, it would have been more positively received.

Think of it like citing a source on a paper. If you don’t do that, it is considered plagiarism, but if you do, you aren’t stealing. Instead, you’re borrowing something and then giving credit to the original source.

Personally, I have no problem with the girl wearing the dress. Of course, it’s not my culture she is appropriating. But ultimately, we live in a time where whitewashing is treading all over other cultures. When appreciating another culture, people must realize that there is a slippery slope to appropriating it.

Criticism of dress is overblown

By Michelle Kumar

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Typically, prom is an exciting and happy experience for high-schoolers. Unfortunately for Keziah Daum, it wasn’t. She became the target of Internet social justice.

I think we can all agree culture appropriation is wrong, but should this girl really be attacked for thinking something was pretty? She wasn’t wearing it as a costume, using it to make fun of the Chinese culture or displaying any malicious intent. It’s as simple as she admired the dress. In an interview with the Washington Post, Daum said, “I thought it was absolutely beautiful … it really gave me a sense of appreciation and admiration for other cultures and their beauty.”

From what I saw, it wasn’t Chinese or Chinese-American people getting mad — it was white teenagers. This brings about the question of how and who should discuss cultural appropriation. Including white voices is important to progress and normalize the topic. However, I don’t see how they can be the authority on what is offensive when and to whom regarding this issue.

If we want to genuinely progress the conversation on cultural appropriation, we need to listen to minority communities rather than becoming the spokesperson for them. This will create a sustainable and healthy conversation. I’m sure there were some Chinese and Chinese-Americans who were offended by Daum’s choice, but they are the ones who should have led the discussion, not a bunch of white teens.

Being Indian myself, the question of cultural appropriation frequently comes up. Should you really be wearing a bindi to Coachella or covering yourself in henna? Probably not, but it isn’t offensive without malicious intent. At most, it deserves an eye-roll. More often than not, I am amazed when people are willing to learn about my culture through experience in a respectful way. It shows that people are really trying to understand.

Cultural appropriation is a tricky topic. But we need to look at the circumstances surrounding the situation before we react. More so, we need to take a step back and listen to the community that is affected.

RELATED: Cervantes: Should we be concerned about cultural appropriation?

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