Prom dress: A ‘cultural appropriation’ furor
Anyone upset about a prom dress is clearly “desperate to be offended,” said Jonah Goldberg in NationalReview.com. Eighteen-year-old Keziah Daum was blasted on social media last week after she posted photos of herself wearing a Chinese-style dress, a cheongsam, to her prom in Utah. A Twitter user named Jeremy Lam earned 42,000 retweets by telling her, “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress.” People in China, meanwhile, think we’re “idiots” for this “absurd panic” over cultural appropriation. Almost everything we do—the music we make, the religions we practice, even the English language itself—is the product of many melded cultures. Yet the Left now insists any form of appropriation is by definition theft—and an insult. Are we offended when “Chinese elites wear Western jackets and ties”? An additional irony here is that China’s economy thrives on “turning our cultural exports into their profit,” said Kenny Xu in TheFederalist.com, whether it’s bootleg iPhones, pirated movies, or stealth fighter jets. “China is guilty of a billion times more cultural theft than some kid in a prom dress.”
Except it wasn’t “just a dress,” said Eliza Anyangwe in Independent.co.uk. Clothes “are part of the way we communicate with the world.” In response to the backlash, Daum tweeted, “I’ve done nothing but show my love for the culture.” But this just reveals her as “the embodiment of a system that empowers white people to take whatever they want” and then fall back on, “Well, I didn’t mean any harm.” White people often mock other cultures as inferior, and then “cherry-pick” what they want from those cultures and call it “appreciation.”
That charge is based on a distorted view of history, said David Frum in TheAtlantic.com. The Chinese dress “originated in a brutal act of imperialism, but not by any Western people.” After the Manchurian conquest of China in 1648, the new rulers imposed a strict style of dress. When the Manchu—or Qing—dynasty was overthrown in 1911, the liberated Chinese created the cheongsam, “a fusion of old and new, East and West”—consciously adapting European fashion to their own fabrics. “If it’s wrong for one culture to borrow from another, then it was wrong to invent the cheongsam in the first place.” The “cultural appropriation police” have a simple morality tale to tell, of oppressors stealing from victims’ cultures. Factually and morally, they’re wrong.