Something extraordinary is happening on Twitter (and no, it’s not the Kanye thing). Last Saturday, a random 18-year-old named Keziah tweeted out a picture of herself wearing a Chinese dress with the caption “PROM.” A random man named Jeremy Lam retweeted her photo with the caption “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress.” Lam’s tweet went viral and has made Keziah the recipient of thousands of hateful messages accusing her of “cultural appropriation” of Chinese culture. But that’s not what’s so amazing.
— Keziah (@daumkeziah) April 22, 2018
My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress. https://t.co/vhkNOPevKD
— Bôh (@jere_bare) April 27, 2018
“Was the theme of the prom racism?” wrote Twitter user @holdyourbutts. “What Chinese event were you invited to that you feel so entitled to wear a Chinese dress? Culture appropriation at its finest,” wrote @that_boy_mohami. “There’s a long history behind the dress,” wrote @bunchukuu, “and white people are not a part of it.”
We’ve come to expect that kind of thing from the Twitterverse. The hatred and oppression of the left is nothing new. But here’s what happened next:
Was the theme of prom casual racism?
— •just kate• (@secondhandkate) April 27, 2018
just because it’s okay to a few chinese people doesn’t mean it’s okay to all of us? our traditional dress isn’t meant to be a fashion statement or make you appear more “exotic”. there’s a long history behind the dress and white people are not a part of it.
— katana (@bunchukuu) April 28, 2018
Mixed in with the bullying and the negativity were countless comments from Chinese people coming to Keziah’s defense — and pushing back against the idea of “cultural appropriation.” People from different cultures appreciating one another, these commenters were saying, is a good and necessary thing.
Popular video game designer Mark Kern tweeted, “I am Chinese, thank you for wearing this. Please enjoy.” Chinese Twitter user @thekawaiicrew tweeted, “What good is our culture if we can’t share it with others?” @will_morris117 wrote, “You should probably learn about your own culture then. Because no one from China would have a problem with her wearing a cheongsam to a formal event.”
Keziah — showing amazing strength for an 18-year-old suddenly subjected to the bullying of thousands — fought back, echoing the sentiments of the Chinese commenters. “To everyone causing so much negativity,” she wrote on Twitter, “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 f***ing dress. And it’s beautiful.”
The idea that only people from a certain culture can do (or say, or eat, or wear) something from that culture is not only ridiculous, it’s sinister. By selling minority groups the false notion that the evil white man is coming to take away their culture and pretend it’s his, the left is able to keep minority groups segregated from the mainstream. But, of course, that’s not what’s going at all.
When a non-Chinese teenager wears a Chinese dress to prom, or a non-Polynesian little girl wears a Moana costume, or a non-Indian wife serves an Indian dish she learned from her colleague to her family, it’s a sign that those things are appreciated, accepted, and valued. It isn’t the evil white men coming to take away something that belongs to someone else, it’s the amazing melting pot of our country adopting something that it appreciates.
Twitter is often a place of bubbles — each person exists within the bubble of their own followers and the people they follow, all of whom generally agree. And often the arguments that take place on Twitter happen not as debates but as theater, designed to show everyone how smart we are rather than hear the viewpoints of others. But something like Lam’s tweet — a statement that seems so rational to one group and so irrational to another — can pop the bubble, if only for a moment. Of course, it would be a lot better if we tried not to ruin an 18-year-old’s prom in the process.