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In sociology and cultural studies, reappropriation or reclamation is the cultural process by which a group reclaims—re-appropriates—terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group.[1] For example, since the early 1970s, attempts have been made to reappropriate terminology referring to homosexuality—such as gay and (to a lesser extent) queer and poof. Another example of reappropriation would be an African American collecting lawn jockeys or other artifacts of darky iconography. The term reappropriation can also extend to counter-hegemonic re-purposing, such as citizens with no formal authority seizing unused public or private land for community use.

The term reappropriation is an extension of the term appropriation or cultural appropriation used in anthropology, sociology and cultural studies to describe the reabsorbing of subcultural styles and forms, or those from other cultures, into mass culture through a process of commodification: the mass-marketing of alternate lifestyles, practices, and artifacts. Wikipedia

R: Even among Race Realists or Racists very few dare to propose to proudly reappropriate the word "Racism". The N-word seemingly was reappropriated by Blacks and rappers, while still taboo for Whites to utter.

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TED: Is Reappropriation an Effective Method of Social Change? [1]

A.M Croon defines reappropriation as "is the cultural process by which a group reclaims—re-appropriates—terms or artifacts that were previously used in a way disparaging of that group" In other words, groups who have suffered under cultural stereotypes or racial/sexist/facist slurs attempt to reclaim the meaning of an offensive term to shake the negative associations with it and instead use it as a banner of pride.

One of the most common examples is in the LGBT community. Previously, it was inappropriate to call someone who is gay "queer." However, over time it became the proper moniker to address the community.

Numerous groups have tried to do the same with labels in regards to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and politics.

What do you think about activists proactively changing the meaning or association with a word/term? Is the reclanation of offensive epitaphs only symbolic or does it provide meaningful change for individuals? How does this reverse discourse shape future generations in the way that they of minorities? Can we change the meaning of words/phrases?

RELATED TALKS: Mark Pagel: How language transformed humanity [2]


Adam D. Galinsky, Kurt Hugenberg, Carla Groom and Galen Bodenhausen

ABSTRACT We present a model of reappropriation, the phenomenon whereby a stigmatized group revalues an externally imposed negative label by self-consciously referring to itself in terms of that label. The model specifies the causes and consequences of reappropriation as well as the essential conditions necessary for reappropriation to be effective. To place the concept of reappropriation in proper context, we begin by discussing the roots of stigma and the mediating role played by social categorization and social identity in the realization of stigma’s deleterious effects. We also discuss the strategies available to both individuals and groups by which stigmatized individuals can enhance their devalued social identities. We provide a discussion of two historical cases of reappropriation and some preliminary empirical evidence concerning the consequences of self-labeling and attempting to reappropriate a stigmatizing label. Finally we discuss the implications of the model for groups and teams, both within and outside of organizations.

INTRODUCTION There is a lot of pain in being a geek. When I first started using the name, it started to fit and at the same time empower. Calling myself a geek was saying to all the people who sometimes made me feel tortured, or isolated, or defeated, “I don’t care if you think I’m a two-headed freak. I think I’m better than you and smarter than you, and that is all that matters” (Rolling Stone, April 29, 1999, p. 48

The queer state of reappropriation [4]

The issue isn’t our sexual orientations; it is of those who reclaim words like “faggot,” “bitch,” “queer,” “dyke” and ‘tranny.’ Adam D. Galinsky states that this process of reappropriation can occur when a stigmatized group revalues an externally imposed negative label by self-consciously referring to itself in terms of that label. These group members take insults and then use these terms as positive identifiers. The evolution of the word ‘queer’ sheds light on the process. Queer originally meant “to spoil or ruin,” then developed a negative connotation when referring to gays. Now the word acts as a neutral umbrella term that includes all members of the GLBTQ community. Once divided on the use of this term, the queer community now consistently uses the word with its GLBTQ organizations and Queer Alliances across the country.

Compare this development to the reappropriation of “bitch.” The “About Us” section of Bitch Magazine reveals the nature of the reappropriation process. “When it’s being used as an insult, ‘bitch’ is an epithet hurled at women who speak their minds, who have opinions and don’t shy away from expressing them, and who don’t sit by and smile uncomfortably if they’re bothered or offended. If being an outspoken woman means being a bitch, we’ll take that as a compliment,” it states.

Some individuals are insulted by these self-proclaimed bitches for speaking their minds and defying gender roles. Reappropriation solves the issue: the editors of the magazine acknowledge their personalities and then own their identities. Their stigmatized characteristics are no longer marks of shame, but ones of pride.

The second snippet of Bitch Magazine’s “About Us” reveals the discomfort felt within such a community:

“We know that not everyone’s down with the term. Believe us, we’ve heard all about it. But we stand firm in our belief that if we choose to reappropriate the word, it loses its power to hurt us. And if we can get people thinking about what they’re saying when they use the word, that’s even better.”

Reappropriate (Grammarist) [5]

reappropriate is to appropriate something pejorative and make it positive. For example, same gays and lesbians have reappropriated the slurs fag and dyke (and gay itself is a reappropriation), some people within American hip-hop culture have reappropriated nigga, and tech-savvy sci-fi aficionados have reappropriated the originally pejorative words nerd and geek.

Such reappropriated terms are usually best avoided by anyone outside the reappropriating groups, though many reappropriated terms eventually lose their negative connotations and become safe for everyone to use. That has arguably happened with nerd and geek but not the other examples we mentioned.


A number of SlutWalkers have been adamantly pushing to reappropriate the word slut, or redefine it through repeated use. [Time]

That project, however, never came about and the money has since been reappropriated to Washington Street. [Peoria Journal Star]

It’s enough to make one sentimental for English reappropriation of the “refudiate” kind. [Guardian]

The Queer Arts Festival opens Tuesday with an emphasis on reappropriating “queer” so it carries a positive punch. [Vancouver Sun]

Reappropriate (Fixing English|Book) [6]

Watch Your Mouth: Reappropriation and Cooption [7]

I think it's clear that by now, the word Gay has been reclaimed successfully by the queer community -- so much so, in fact, that it's unlikely that an author writing in English would use it without being aware that various layers of meaning might be read into it.

On the downside, it's been so successfully claimed that it can once again be used as a pejorative by virtue of being associated with queers ("That's so gay.") *sigh*

"Dyke" is another word that's been reclaimed (see Dyke, sub-category Portly), as is "queer", although the re-appropriation of these terms carries a certain level of controversy that is similar to (but, perhaps, milder than) the split in feminist communities over the word "bitch".

I know a number of lesbians who would be absolutely offended if I called them a dyke -- even in private, or in the exclusive company of other lesbians. I also know lesbians who would be offended if I referred to them as "gay women", and gay women who would be put off if I called them lesbians.

So what's a dyke to do?

Well, for one thing, comprehend and respect this fact: It is vitally important that oppressed persons retain the agency to identify themselves.

Labeling a minority, or any oppressed class, is big tool in the oppressor's tool-kit. That's why there is such a vast array of slurs applied to people who are disenfranchised based on their sex, gender, color, race, creed, orientation, disability, national origin, etc..

When a member of a privileged class uses these terms, they are saying, in essence: "I own the culture, and I get to define you." It is an attempt to exercise power, whether conscious or unconscious.

When a member of a non-privileged class re-appropriates the term, they are saying: "No, you do not define me."

Tends to piss them right off (the privileged label-makers, that is).

Here's a true-story example: I was walking down the street holding hands with my girlfriend, and the guy we'd just passed said (just loud enough for us to hear): "Fucking dykes."

I turned around and said, in my cheeriest voice: "Congratulations, Sir! -- you have correctly identified the dykes -- but I will have to remove points from you for mis-identifying our current activity."

He was absolutely aghast.

I had not only refused to passively accept his right to label me pejoratively -- I had had the audacity to actually confront him for attempting to "power-over" me.

In his mind, the way this was supposed to work was that I would get scared, or drop my girlfriend's hand, or feel ashamed, or Maude knows what -- however he thought it was going to play out, clearly it did not include me engaging him directly and proudly claiming the term he sought to denigrate me with.

So, what does all this have to do with Part 1 of this series?

Let's say a person of privilege uses a term or idiom (perhaps with no intent to offend at all) and a member of the non-privileged class says that it is offensive to them, and the privileged speaker responds with something like: "That term has come into common use and isn't offensive anymore".

I believe that they are enforcing their privilege.

I believe that they are reiterating the following message (usually, completely unconsciously):

"I have the power. I own the language. Your experience does not count, and the fact that you are offended is of no consequence, because you have no power."