Slur reappropriation is the reclaiming of disparaging words as a way for marginalized groups to subvert their negativity and fight against prejudice. In a novel examination of slur reappropriation, we are applying previous research on slur reappropriation to better understanding how people might be currently latching onto racist identities and using this to reduce the power of individuals to confront prejudice. Our research team noted that in recent years, the term “racist” may be currently being reclaimed by racists (e.g., racist people being confronted for their prejudice and then making statements like, “if that’s racist, then I guess I’m a racist!”). Although not a typical reappropriated slur, applying this research suggests that adopting this identity would subvert anti-racists’ abilities to confront individuals for their prejudices.
To test this hypothesis, we presented participants with a situation in which a racist individual made a racist comment. We manipulated whether the racist individual reappropriated the racist terminology. There were five conditions. First was a control condition in which the racist person was not called racist and did not reappropriate the term. There were two conditions in which they were called racist and did not reappropriate the term which should result in the lowest power for the racist person and the most power for the antiracist person: 1) was called racist and did not respond, 2) was called racist and rejected it saying that they were not racist. Finally, there were two conditions in which the racist reappropriated the term which should increase the power of the racist and reduce the power of the antiracist individual: 1) preemptively self-labeling before they could be called racist by the confronter, 2) accepting the label when they were labeled by the other individual.
We found that self-labeling with the term racist increased perceptions of the racist’s power and reduced the power of the antiracist confronter suggesting that reappropriating the term “racist” seemed to nullify the potential for an antiracist to confront the racist. This study helps expand research on the reappropriation of stigmatizing labels and derogatory terms to non-prototypically reappropriated terms. Further, this study informs of ways that racists may be pushing back against antiracist movements which may help create strategies of confrontation that reduce this resistance.