Cultural Appropriation at Prom


Aarushi Bhatnagar, Student Journalist

Prom season has arrived, and I’m sure many students are in the process of buying suits and dresses. It’s an exciting process, choosing the perfect dress or suit for a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. For the most part, students do a good job at dressing appropriately. Unfortunately, however, in the past there have been a few people who have failed to do so. Over the years, as an Indian girl, I’ve seen so many pictures of boys wearing kurtas and girls adorning headpieces and bindis, wearing salwar kurtas. Hopefully, this year I won’t have to see it.

For years, the debate over what qualifies as cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation has been disputed. People normalized Justin Bieber and Kylie Jenner’s dreadlocks at the same time that they criticized Zendaya when she wore them on the red carpet. So, let me first begin by distinguishing between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation. Cultural appropriation is defined as the “act of adopting elements of an outside, often minority culture, including knowledge, practices, and symbols, without understanding or respecting the original culture and context”. Cultural appreciation, on the other hand, is the opposite. It occurs when “elements of a culture are used while honoring the source they came from”. In other words, cultural appreciation happens when one is educated about the background of the culture, and cultural appropriation happens when one wears a garment or accessory simply because “it looks nice”. Too often has the latter happened, and in a generation where the youth are taking a stand against social issues, I believe it’s time to put an end to something that seems to go unnoticed.

As a witness to cultural appropriation, I can safely say that it is enraging when I see a picture of someone wearing a garment they clearly know nothing about. And, quite ironically, it seems to be the same people that earlier claimed “that dress is so ugly!” or “you look so weird with those clothes on”. With that being said, it would be nice to see people who truly appreciate and know about different cultures wear the clothing, rather than people who simply wear it because of the aesthetic. So please, don’t show up to prom wearing something that you aren’t truly educated about. It is frustrating, and I’d like to put an end to it once and for all.