“My culture is not your prom dress…”

I’ve heard a lot about “cultural appropriation” recently. It seems to be a sticky situation and many people have a number of different ideas about what is right and what is wrong.

Then there’s this girl, Kezia Daum of Salt Lake City, who wore a Chinese-style dress to her prom and faced monstrous backlash from the Twittosphere. I find myself scratching my head.

People for thousands of years have worn clothing that is functional, with the materials they had on hand. If they had time/materials, they would add adornments such as beads or embroidery. The people in roles of leadership — or ones who had greater means — would have more ornate adornments.

I admit I’m pretty American, and I’ve traveled around the world a few times. This doesn’t mean I’ve seen everything or know everything. I have however seen people dressing in T-shirts and blue jeans or cowboy hats or business suits wherever I’ve gone. I was pleasantly amused to see a Japanese actor dancing in cowboy boots at Tokyo Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree.

I’ve also occasionally dressed up in traditional clothing (kimonos, sarongs) when it was offered or it suited my purposes. Did I think I was stealing someone’s culture? Not when it was offered/sold to me.

Great honor and dignity has been afforded this Asian garb by this 1980s Japanese video game.

I know some types of clothing are associated with holy, or sacred roles. As a clown, a thespian, and a smartass, I know historically in a healthy society, anything holy is ripe for exaltation, depiction, and iconoclasm. But there’s also the fact that art, fashion, and technology progress much more quickly if they can breathe. Sharing/cross-pollinating ideas is the best way to find new, better, and stronger ideas.

Putting up walls saying, “this is my culture and you can’t have it” I don’t think is the answer. Which brings me to a Kezia Daum, the blonde teen who found a cute Chinese dress for her prom and is now being subject to a world of hate for it. Really?! It looked like the sort of dress so sacred it was placed in the holy land of Japanese company CapCom’s Street Fighter game. So sacred.

But then there is stuff like keeping black artists out of the music industry while white recording artists plagiarized their songs and made the money from them. I’m sure there’s a bit of (deserved) resentment here and there. I see no simple answer to this, especially when everyone’s on a knee-jerking hair trigger and yelling.

One thought on ““My culture is not your prom dress…”

  1. Truth! I have always thought wearing another cultures clothing to a special event was more of a compliment to them than an “appropriation of culture.” Halloween is a different story, one that I will not discuss here. I have loved saris since I was a little girl. I wore one to a wedding. I did not receive the media backlash she did because it was before social media was so big. I did however, get lots of questions and a few snide comments. We seem to have a lot more to say if it’s mean and unkind. We need to come to a point where love rules, and the meanness falls away. If I personally am wearing the clothing of your culture, it is because I love it and find it beautiful. I suspect the young lady that wore the gorgeous, Asian dress to her prom felt the same way. I don’t understand the anger.

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