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High school senior accused of cultural appropriation, 'racism' for wearing Chinese dress to her prom

Utah high school senior Keziah Daum has been accused of cultural appropriation and racism for wearing a Chinese dress to her prom. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)

Utah high school senior Keziah Daum told the Washington Post she wanted her prom dress to be "unique and bold" and have "some sort of meaning to it."

She found what she was looking for in a vintage store in downtown Salt Lake City, the paper said — a red cheongsam or qipao, which is a high-collared, form-fitting traditional Chinese dress.

But then Daum — who isn't Chinese, the Post said — tweeted photos of her wearing the dress, along with her gussied-up pals:

What happened next?

Daum's photos sparked a social media eruption. One tweetstorm against Daum's dress choice started off with the stark line, "My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress."

Jeremy Lam then went into great detail about the history of the dress over numerous follow-up posts before ending his thread by saying, “I’m proud of my culture, including the extreme barriers marginalized people within that culture have had to overcome those obstacles. For it to simply be subject to American consumerism and cater to a white audience, is parallel to colonial ideology.”

Others followed suit:

  • "This isn’t ok," another Twitter user wrote. "I wouldn’t wear traditional Korean, Japanese or any other traditional dress and I’m Asian. I wouldn’t wear traditional Irish or Swedish or Greek dress either. There’s a lot of history behind these clothes. Sad."
  • Twitter user "Megan_Phung" added: "If you 'appreciate' and 'love' our culture, you’d know it’s a traditional gown. Yet you claim, 'it’s just a dress'. It has cultural meaning and significance to us. What you said shows no appreciation but shows plenty of appropriation."
  • The Post said another observer wrote that “you just don’t wear it if ur not. chinese … it’s not something to play dress up with.”
  • "Was the theme of prom casual racism?" another user asked, the Daily Mail reported.

What else were people upset about?

Some observers were miffed at Daum and her friends posing in one photo as if they were praying. One Twitter user called it "racist":

But Daum told Teen Vogue that the pose was "in reference to a famous YouTuber named Ethan Klein from h3h3 productions. For example, the praying signal means ‘Papa Praise’ and the other one is ‘Vape Nation.’”

Daum's reply to her detractors?

"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," she wrote on Twitter. "It’s a f***ing dress. And it’s beautiful."

But not every reaction was negative...

Daum's critics didn't escape heated debate, as many users came to her defense and savaged her detractors:

  • "Hi! I am a collector of cheongsams, with Chinese heritage and I think it is ridiculous other people are judging you!" Stephanie Chan wrote. "As Chinese, we are very proud and delighted to share our cultural fashions with anyone around the world. I love how you wear the dress with confidence! You rock!"
  • Another Twitter user added, "I am Filipino, Hawaiian & Japanese. My girlfriend is white and she wears Asian and Polynesian garments beautifully at our family gatherings. I'm sure you stood out of the crowd too. Keep your individuality. You look great, young lady."
  • "I’m Chinese. You looked great! People are just crazy these days," another user said.

The best counterpunch?

Remember Daum referring to Ethan Klein of the YouTube channel h3h3Productions? Well, Klein got into the mix himself and blasted Jeremy Lam, the Twitter user who told Daum, "My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress":

What did Daum's mother have to say?

“We’ve had to pull her away from it because it has gotten overwhelming,” Daum's mother, Melissa Dawes, told the Post Monday night. “These are adults attacking basically a kid. … She wasn’t looking for this at all.”

More from the Post:

While the family lives in a predominantly white suburb of Salt Lake City, Dawes said she has made an effort to give her daughter a multicultural upbringing. When Daum was in the third grade, her mother pulled her out of her school and enrolled her in a more diverse school in Salt Lake City. “I wanted her to have that exposure,” Dawes said.

She also said that Daum has grown up with a multicultural extended family. Several of her nieces and nephews are of Pacific Island descent.

“I’m proud of her for standing her ground because she didn’t do anything wrong,” Dawes added to the paper.

Daum concluded that “there are people who are going to find something to offend them no matter what it is," she told the Post.

And as for the dress, Daum told the paper that "I’d wear it again."

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