The reappropriation of stigmatizing labels: the reciprocal relationship between power and self-labeling

Psychol Sci. 2013 Oct;24(10):2020-9. doi: 10.1177/0956797613482943. Epub 2013 Aug 16.


We present a theoretical model of reappropriation--taking possession of a slur previously used exclusively by dominant groups to reinforce another group's lesser status. Ten experiments tested this model and established a reciprocal relationship between power and self-labeling with a derogatory group term. We first investigated precursors to self-labeling: Group, but not individual, power increased participants' willingness to label themselves with a derogatory term for their group. We then examined the consequences of such self-labeling for both the self and observers. Self-labelers felt more powerful after self-labeling, and observers perceived them and their group as more powerful. Finally, these labels were evaluated less negatively after self-labeling, and this attenuation of stigma was mediated by perceived power. These effects occurred only for derogatory terms (e.g., queer, bitch), and not for descriptive (e.g., woman) or majority-group (e.g., straight) labels. These results suggest that self-labeling with a derogatory label can weaken the label's stigmatizing force.

Keywords: hierarchy; language; power; reappropriation; self-labeling; slurs; social perception; status; stigma.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Hierarchy, Social*
  • Homophobia / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Power, Psychological*
  • Racism / psychology*
  • Self Concept*
  • Sexism / psychology*
  • Social Perception
  • Social Stigma*
  • Stereotyping
  • Terminology as Topic*
  • Young Adult