Culture appreciation…or appropriation?

If you’re an avid user of social media, you’ve probably seen this tweet pop around:

Yet again, another post of a non-POC wearing ethnically significant clothing. However, while most would agree an action like non-black folk wearing dreads is not acceptable, this issue witnesses a split in Asian-Americans. There is both a large support for Keziah’s actions as cultural appreciation, but also fervent opposition that deems the dress as cultural appropriation.

If you can’t already tell, I’d consider myself quite liberal (on a political spectrum, I’m apparently a left moderate social authoritarian, whatever that means), and would probably be categorized as one of those “social justice warriors.” As I read the replies to the post, I felt a mix of emotions–pride at Asian-Americans speaking out against the issue, confusion at the Chinese-Americans supporting the dress, frustration at Keziah’s refusal to recognize the consequences of her actions, and absolute disgust at some of the bigoted, ignorant replies.

While some people were respectful in their reasoning for supporting the dress (which weren’t all irrational), I still stand by my opinion that white folk wearing the qipao is a form of cultural appropriation. However, I believe that Keziah is simply ignorant (idk…she lives in Salt Lake City) and being intentionally racist, and thus education about the issue as opposed to slander and dehumanization is important.

What is the line between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, and why would I consider this appropriation?

This line is blurry one, and some would argue subjective. For me however, along with some others (who consider the issue as cultural appropriation) in regards to wearing culturally specific clothing, appreciation involves educating oneself about the history behind the clothing/showing interest in the culture (i.e. learning the language, attending a cultural event, visiting the country, etc) and wearing the clothing in the right setting. Appropriation would be wearing the clothing solely for its aesthetic, devaluing the significance behind the dress, and in the wrong situation.

A lot of the supporters are being ignorant when they think that the opponents believe all instances of wearing cultural significant clothing is wrong. That is not the case, as twitter user bunchukuu explains (highly recommend checking her other replies!!)

Keziah on the other hand, still has not made any effort to spend 10 minutes reading about the history of the qipao, is in no way connected to/has never learned about an ounce of Chinese culture, and emphasized “it’s just a f*cking dress,” which clearly is belittling the significance of the qipao. Honey, showing love for a culture is much more than wearing a dress because it’s pretty.

And you know what is not cultural appropriation? People globally wearing western business attire and using the internet. The former became widespread through colonialist ideology: the idea that in order to succeed globally (since the West was “””superior”””), people needed to dress like westerners. The latter is not a part of culture… For example, people use gun powder, a Chinese invention, and that is not something that people are complaining about because it doesn’t carry the same cultural significance.

Why is cultural appropriation bad?

This thread does a beautiful job explaining the consequences with nuance:

To summarize in a few points:

  1. It devalues historical significance, which slowly erases the purpose of culture
  2. It creates double standards–POC are often mocked for wearing cultural clothes/forced to assimilate, but when a white person wears cultural clothing, it is suddenly trendy. As the thread explains, it “suggests that white people have the right of ownership over cultures of color.”
  3. White companies capitalize off the sexualization of cultural clothing.
  4. (This is my own point) It allows for cherry-picking of what parts of a culture to appreciate. This leads to people enjoying the qipao, but a moment later, they make slant eyes and exoticize Chinese womxn.

Many people claim that we are privileged to view Keziah wearing the dress as “oppression,” however that is not the main issue. Accepting one incidence of cultural appropriation opens up American society to accept many more, and when the practice becomes widespread, it can become dangerous. Also, the acceptance of cultural appropriation is similar to many other smaller instances of racism in the form of microaggressions–the dangers are explained here. This issue is not just Chinese-Americans “playing victim.”

Why don’t people in Mainland China care?

When someone from Mainland China is happy about someone wearing the qipao, that is usually because the person wearing the dress is doing it in China, and as I explained earlier, this could be due to an interest in Chinese culture.

The most significant reason for the difference in reaction is the situation of each group. While China is generally racially homogeneous, and thus a majority face little racism within their own country (with the exception of smaller ethnic groups), Chinese-Americans live in a country where they are deemed the model minority and are thus pressured to assimilate. Chinese-Americans often face a personal dilemma in choosing between their own culture and the dominant western culture, thus many experience internalized racism, which is coupled with a history of racism in the United States that Mainland Chinese people simply don’t experience.

Thus all the arguments, as seen below, about “real Chinese people don’t care” (first of all how are Chinese-Americans not actual Chinese??) are irrelevant in this context.

What exactly is the history behind the qipao?

This thread was a very interesting read! As a Chinese-American, I actually did not know much about its significance other than attire for cultural festivals. Keziah could have read this thread in less than 5 minutes but…


Isn’t its history beautiful? This is why white folk saying the qipao is “just a f*cking dress” and wear it to prom (not affiliated with Chinese culture at all) is so demeaning.

And finally, a few snapshots of ignorance because I’m fed up:

Disappointed at the amount of support Keziah is getting, but honestly not surprised. Remember folks, educate!!

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