An American teenager unknowingly incited an online furore over “cultural appropriation” after she posted pictures of herself wearing a traditional Chinese dress on Twitter.
On April 23, 18-year-old high school student Keziah, who is not Chinese, posted the pictures which show her donning a cheongsam, otherwise known as a qipao, for her prom.
In one picture, Keziah and her friends perform what is supposedly a stereotypical Chinese bow.
— Keziah (@daumkeziah) April 22, 2018
The post has since received over 6,500 retweets, 98,500 likes and 15,000 comments.
Days later, the seemingly innocent photos caught the eye of another Twitter user, Jeremy Lam, who lambasted her in a seething tweet, accusing her of “cultural appropriation” – the adoption of elements of a minority culture by people of a dominant culture.
In the tweet dated April 27, Lam wrote: “My culture is NOT your…prom dress.”
My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress. https://t.co/vhkNOPevKD
— Jeremy Lam (@jere_bare) April 27, 2018
Lam’s post garnered notably more attention, with over 41,900 retweets, 178,700 likes and 18,000 comments at time of writing, sparking a fervent debate over the issue.
In a subsequent Twitter thread, Lam attempted to give reason for his accusation: “The qipao was originally a loose dress/garment without shape, made for Chinese women to clean the house and do other domestic chores with.”
“It was then altered and embroidered as a beautiful form-fitting outfit to wear publically [sic], which Chinese women were not allowed to do at [sic] during the times of extreme patriarchal oppression.”
He said the qipao was a symbol of activism which embraced femininity, confidence and gender equality in a time when Asian women were “silenced”.
“For it to simply be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience, is parallel to colonial ideology,” he added.
Several Twitter users supported Lam’s argument, claiming Keziah’s deed had belittled the significance of the traditional outfit and downplayed its historical value.
just because it’s okay to a few chinese people doesn’t mean it’s okay to all of us? our traditional dress isn’t meant to be a fashion statement or make you appear more “exotic”. there’s a long history behind the dress and white people are not a part of it.
— katana (@bunchukuu) April 28, 2018
she literally wore it to prom without even knowing the history behind it. she literally said that she bought it from a vintage shop and thought it was vintage. THIS DRESS ISNT FOR PROM. but i wouldn’t expect you to know because you arent asian.
— m au📌 (@krissylovebot) April 28, 2018
Because a qipao is a very sacred dress that is usually only worn on weddings. Not for prom. A simple google search can tell you that.
— Hannah (@hijabi_hannah) May 1, 2018
On April 28, Keziah posted another tweet to explain her position after some users demanded that she remove her pictures.
She wrote: “I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture. I’m simply showing my appreciation to their culture. I’m not deleting my post because I’ve done nothing but show my love for the culture. It’s a…dress. And it’s beautiful.”
To everyone causing so much negativity: I mean no disrespect to the Chinese culture. I’m simply showing my appreciation to their culture. I’m not deleting my post because I’ve done nothing but show my love for the culture. It’s a fucking dress. And it’s beautiful.
— Keziah (@daumkeziah) April 28, 2018
Many users supported her decision, with some saying that her action was one of cultural appreciation and not appropriation.
Girl you better rock this dress. We all humans. No need to be greedy and act like something can only be for ONE person/Group. People need to stop ambushing you. You think it’s a beautiful dress so why can’t people be proud youthink their cultural dress is gorg?
— LaFawnduh (@Little___Renee) April 29, 2018
Prom is a sacred right of passage in america, for you to simply dismiss it as nothing is very rude. Wow, this girl could have more 1000 dresses for her very special day but wore the chinese dress. She must really love chinese culture.
— Taymur asif (@taymur_asif) May 1, 2018
Girl don’t even sweat these haters. I bet they’re all about to celebrate cinco de mayo (a totally American made holiday just like saint Patrick’s day) and act like they aren’t appropriating Hispanic culture (or Irish culture on the St. Patty’s day version lol)
— Jasmine Summers (@JustJasminexxx) April 30, 2018
Others slammed Lam for his non-Chinese name and attire which to them was a sign of hypocrisy.
Why are you wearing a German sports brand hat? You are not German or white. Stop wearing our cultural clothing.
— Racist Duck 🇬🇧 🔱 (@racistduck) April 29, 2018
but man… you have an English name, your hat is german, your main language is English and you’re talking about culture?
— Pachecão (@prexeco) May 1, 2018
One user even tried to turn the tables on Lam, saying that he was the one guilty of exercising racism instead.
Racism comes in many forms. Jeremy Lam you have shown us today what racism can manifest as. You created hate where there was none. If more people showed appreciation for other cultures then there would be less hate and more love. You sir have shown nothing but hate. #stopracism
— Patches (@Patches_the_1st) May 1, 2018