American teen’s choice of Chinese dress for prom sparks fierce ‘cultural appropriation’ debate on Twitter

American high school student Keziah’s choice of prom dress was seen by some Twitter users as cultural appropriation.
Twitter/@daumkeziah

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.

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.”

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.

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.”

Many users supported her decision, with some saying that her action was one of cultural appreciation and not appropriation.

Others slammed Lam for his non-Chinese name and attire which to them was a sign of hypocrisy.

One user even tried to turn the tables on Lam, saying that he was the one guilty of exercising racism instead.