The debate over whether a teenage girl’s Chinese prom dress qualified as “cultural appropriation” has ignited the internet, and both Americans who are adamantly for it and fervently against it are serving as a reminder that while they are engaging in a spirited debate about what a girl is wearing, their government is actively killing young girls and boys in the Middle East.
Keziah Daum was one of many high school students who proudly posted photos on social media with the caption “PROM” this weekend. But her post was met with backlash on Twitter after another user shared her status and wrote, “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” which sparked an argument over whether the cheongsam, or traditional Chinese dress, Daum wore was appropriate.
— Keziah (@daumkeziah) April 22, 2018
The outrage over Daum’s choice to wear the dress was apparent. The original Tweet from Jeremy Lam criticizing it received more than 40,000 retweets and nearly 180,000 likes. In a follow-up Tweet, he wrote, “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.”
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.
— Jeremy Lam (@jere_bare) April 28, 2018
Other Twitter users commented and accused Daum of “whitewashing” the dress by wearing it to her prom and “playing dress up” without appreciating the cultural significance. One user suggested that because she is not Asian, “maybe it’s best to listen to people who actually are since you’re all about ‘appreciating the culture.’”
While everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion and social media is the place where people voice their opinions, the spirited debate from social media users raises the question:
If the thousands of Americans who voiced their opinion about a girl wearing a dress that they thought was disrespectful to a culture channeled their outrage into calling out their government for disrespecting cultures in the Middle East by destroying their cities and killing their civilians, what kind of an impact could they have?
The United States has spent years imposing its culture on sovereign nations in the Middle East by invading countries, working to overthrow Democratically-elected presidents, and exerting control over the countries’ natural resources.
What if the people who commented and said, “This is not OK,” were referring to the fact that the United States has been supplying weapons for and funding genocide in Yemen for the last three years, and its coalition recently bombed a wedding and killed at least 20 people—mostly women and children, including the bride.
What if the outrage was targeted at the longest war in U.S. history, which is as old as many of the teenagers who attended prom this weekend? It has cost more than $1 trillion and more than 31,000 civilian deaths have been documented—with the number increasing drastically over the last few years. Yet despite the fact that the United States’ mission to bring “freedom and democracy” to Afghanistan has clearly failed, there is no end in sight.
What if the outrage from Twitter users focused on that fact that the U.S. government worked hand-in-hand with the mainstream media to sell Americans the lie that it needed to invade Iraq to rid the country of “weapons of mass destruction,” and now that same lie is being used to accuse Syrian President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out chemical attacks on his own people to justify U.S. troops remaining in the country.
The point is that anyone can get offended by anything they see on the internet, and if thousands of Americans are willing to speak up for a culture when they believe it is being disrespected by one teenage girl, where are they when cultures are being attacked by their government in the form of illegal invasions and military action?
Many of the teenage girls who live in Syria, Yemen, and Afghanistan have lost their homes, their families, and even their cities because of bombs dropped by the United States, and that has to be the greatest form of disrespect.