It was the 29th of April when I started seeing tweets from the Asian American Twitter community about high school senior, Keziah Daum, and her choice of wearing a qipao for her prom dress.
At first glance, I didn’t think much of the photos floating around my feed. I didn’t think much about the girl wearing what she called a “vintage” dress. I thought “It’s fine. She looks good and I doubt she’s trying to disrespect anybody”.
While there were many Asian Americans who felt the same apathy towards the dress wearer, other’s such as Jeremy Lam, had a different response. This response varied from calling the teen disrespectful to calling her a cultural appropriator.
Due to the backlash, Daum wrote a statement saying, “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”.
This statement is what changed my perception towards the situation.
For many people, it’s not just a dress.
I can’t speak on behalf of all the Chinese Americans, but I can understand the anger and the upset that many have felt. Many Chinese-Am women have been mocked, ridiculed, and hypersexualized for wearing cultural outfits such as the qipao. So, when a white woman is applauded for wearing something that so many have been laughed at or even assaulted for wearing, it’s hard not to be angry.
To make matters worse, instead of hearing Asian American’s out and creating a dialogue, Daum consistently deflected and turned to the Chinese in China and White Americans for affirmations by retweeting tweets that praise her for her choice from Chinese news sources and from h3h3production. In doing so, Daum has chosen to invalidate the experiences Asian Americans face.
Chinese people in China do not understand racism or appropriation the same way that Asian Americans do. They live in a homogenous country where they can celebrate their culture without being racialized or fetishized.
White Americans, on the other hand, do not understand the power dynamics of an Asian American partaking in white culture versus a white person partaking in Asian culture. Whiteness is the dominant culture. It has been standardized globally, systemically, and institutionally, so to say participating in white culture is a type of appropriation would be a false equivalency.