Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s …
… Captain Casual Racist!
That’s right, people. Once again, your humble, dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks columnist has voluntarily elected to wade into the turbulent waters of race in America. (And may God have mercy on my sub-50-I.Q. soul ...)
You’d think I would have learned my lesson with the last few forays into the racism debate:
• In early October, I wrote about the insensitivity of a group of students at a football game holding up a cardboard cutout of Donald Trump and chanting “Build that wall!”
• Also in October, I wrote about the harmless Dove body wash ad that so many people mistakenly called racist.
• Then, late that same month, I offered my two cents about a video that surfaced of Weber High School cheerleaders chanting a highly offensive racial slur.
• And finally, two months ago I made the mistake of suggesting that maybe — just maybe — blanket statements about white Americans were no more helpful than the blanket statements about black Americans.
From those four columns, I ended up being called all sorts of names — my favorite being “casual racist.” (I like that one because it implies that I don’t have to try very hard, and I’m all about putting forth the least amount of effort.)
But now, we have an 18-year-old high school senior from Northern Utah getting the same treatment. She’s being called a “closet racist” and has been saddled with that gravest of sins, “cultural appropriation.”
And all for the silliest of reasons — a prom dress.
When Woods Cross High School senior Keziah Daum posted photos of her prom night on social media, she couldn’t have known the “twit” storm that awaited her. On April 22, Daum took to Twitter to share photos of her big teenage night at the state capitol. While her date wore the traditional dark suit, white shirt and tie, Daum donned a cheongsam — a form-fitting Chinese cultural dress also called a qipao — that she found in a thrift store. The red dress with the black and gold ornamental designs features a high collar and an even higher slit up the sides.
A Twitter user identified as Jeremy Lam decided to rain on Daum’s parade, writing: “My culture is NOT your (expletive) prom dress.” And with those eight words, the floodgates were opened.
So, was it appropriation, or appreciation?
Let’s think about it: Daum was so taken with the beauty of a Chinese dress that she actually chose to wear it to prom — arguably the biggest night in a teenager’s young life. This wasn’t her trying to get a laugh, or mock another culture, or denigrate a group of people who are different from her. This was genuine, heartfelt appreciation for the beauty of an item of fashion that happened to come from outside her culture.
Yes, but as a non-Asian, she doesn’t have that right, people told her. At the very least she should have gotten permission first, they insisted.
Permission? From whom? The Chinese government? The company that made the dress? Her nearest neighbor of Asian descent? Twitter user Jeremy Lam?
The only real crime Daum committed was not realizing that many of these so-called social justice warriors can get a little cranky when they get “woke.” Because suddenly, a white girl from Utah in an Asian prom dress became just another example of the evils of racist America and its appropriation of other cultures.
However, the problem becomes: Where do we draw the line on all of this? So, if a white teenager in America can’t wear a traditional dress from China, should she be allowed to drive a Toyota, or sleep in a bed from IKEA? Should an athlete from Russia be allowed to play baseball? Who gets to speak Tongan? Eat Navajo tacos? Make Navajo tacos, for that matter? Can a white person listen to Wu-Tang Clan? Can a black person go to a Taylor Swift concert? Can a non-Mormon ride a bicycle in a white shirt and tie?
And while we’re on this subject of “staying in one’s own lane,” as social justice warriors like to put it, could Daum — as a white girl — have been allowed to take a Japanese exchange student to prom? Or a black student?
So many questions, so many wrong answers.
Fortunately, technology to the rescue. Those DNA genealogy tests that have become so popular may one day save us from our own racism.
I mean, if Keziah Daum has any Asian ancestry at all, do we stop complaining about her fashion choices?
You know, we keep talking about America being this grand melting pot. And yet so many of us see it more like a flour sifter, wherein we separate ourselves into distinct piles as a constant reminder that we can’t possibly ever be the same, like the same things, share the same experiences.
So we busy ourselves with being offended by a white girl finding a dress from Chinese culture so incredibly stunning that she chooses to wear it to her biggest night of the year.
If that’s cultural appropriation — if that’s what you call closet racism — maybe the world could use a little more of it.