Last week, a Utah teenager named Keziah Daum came under scrutiny for wearing a traditional Chinese qipao to her prom and posing with stereotypical hand gestures with her friends in a photo. She was criticized for lacking cultural awareness and choosing the dress based on aesthetics over substance, akin to Batman picking out a costume without knowing the hidden gadgets and functionality behind it.
As a Chinese immigrant who’s lived in four countries, I feel that I can have an opinion on this without holding back. I believe her intentions were pure and she shouldn’t feel obliged to educate herself on the historical significance of a dress. However, as with too many issues in today’s social media society, the outrage is diverting attention away from the underlying problem that needs to be addressed (pun intended).
It wasn’t Daum’s choice to be born and raised in a relatively secluded community with minimal exposure to other cultures. (According to 2015 Census estimates, 2.4 percent of Utah’s population is Asian, just a bit under 71,000 people.) Daum’s mom has understandably come to her daughter’s defense, stating she has tried to provide her daughter with opportunities to experience a variety of cultures in her upbringing.
If we take her word, then the important question isn’t Daum’s intent, it’s why are there so many pockets in America that become breeding grounds for cultural ignorance? Of course, we can choose to deny the relevance of cultural diversity. Why should we have to expose ourselves to “different” people when we’re getting by just fine?
The irony is those who minimize the importance of cultural diversity are the ones at the biggest disadvantage. We live in a globalized economy and compete against anyone from any corner of the world. In fact, a report published by the United Nations in 2000 states, “Economic globalization is an Irreversible Trend.” Technology has provided a medium for every organization to communicate on a global scale.
Failure to comprehend different racial sensitivities doesn’t just make you more ignorant, it has real-world economic impact. Inability to empathize with people who didn’t grow up with a knife and fork and go to church every Sunday diminishes your employability. With every news outlet constantly reminding us unemployment is at an all-time low, it’s obvious employability is one of the most crucial factors in our lives.
We shouldn’t be lambasting a teenager for desiring what comes naturally to her — to look good. Instead, let’s focus on how communities where only one race, one thought, one belief and one culture exist come to fruition and objectively assess if that upbringing is beneficial to the next generation. People may feel like their dominant culture is being threatened, but it’s an undeniable reality they need to face if they want to remain relevant in this world.
The beauty of America isn’t just the breathtaking scenery found in places such as Utah. It’s the diversity in food, thought, culture, race and freedom of expression, even when that freedom is expressed through a Chinese prom dress.
David Ho, Providence, R.I., was born in Taiwan, grew up in New Zealand, lived in Australia and moved to the United States last year to take a job as a data scientist.