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.