Alex Lo
SCMP Columnist
My Take
by Alex Lo
My Take
by Alex Lo

Go ahead, appropriate my culture

Social media fuss over a teenage American girl wearing a cheongsam to her high school prom is so ridiculous that I just have to chime in 

In the immortal words of Keziah Daum, “It’s a f***ing dress”. And let me just say this about the 18-year-old from Utah in the United States, who has inadvertently started a media storm after she wore a cheongsam to her high school prom and posted photos of it on Twitter: You rock, girl!

If anyone thinks social media is harmless, this incident should prove otherwise. A person called Jeremy Lam apparently first tweeted about her transgression, which is now being called “cultural appropriation”. “My culture is NOT your goddamn prom dress,” he posted.

Daum is seen in her cheongsam, along with a friend. Photo: Keziah Daum via Twitter

And that started an avalanche of retweets, followed by media commentaries like this one from yours truly. I apologise in advance for contributing to the silliness, but just needed to get it off my chest. 

A publication as esteemed as The Independent of London ran a column supportive of the criticism.

“The debate her prom pictures have prompted is justified,” the columnist wrote. “Cultural appropriation is about power, and to many she is the embodiment of a system that empowers white people to take whatever they want, go wherever they want and be able to fall back on: ‘Well, I didn’t mean any harm’.”

I would argue those who scream loudest about cultural appropriation are themselves after power. 

As soon as you raise issues about your own race and culture, you pretty much shut people up, because most people don’t want to be accused of being racist, elitist or not being “woke”, in the parlance of social justice warriors (SJWs).

Why does Jeremy Lam think Chinese is his culture? Is his the same as mine? Is it some kind of property like an inherence? If so, where is the will, written in our DNA, perhaps? And is it taxable or payable, and by whom?

Why did Lam write in English? Isn’t he inappropriately appropriating English-speaking culture? 

SJWs turn culture into some kind of finite asset, a zero-sum rather than a growing-sum game. They are oblivious or ignorant of how human cultures actually work: culture is cultural appropriation.

Cultures borrow from one another, even between the victor and the vanquished. 

They build on others by developing their own. If they turn out something worthwhile, others would start stealing from them, too. 

Jihadists may be chopping the heads off Western hostages, but even they sometimes wear T-shirts, jeans and trainers, and use Western-invented weapons. That’s cultural appropriation!