Is reappropriating empowering?

*Kobe came back with passion that hits guitar strings mercilessly, pride that balloons wild steps of past travels, and with curiosity that kindles his eyes in flame. Adding one person in group arms multiplies countable communication channels; which gave me a pleasure to realise a challenging observation of thoughts and emotions that exchange one another verbally and/or nonverbally. Political studies assume that human relations are power games, dominating or negotiating one’s influence on others. In those communication channels, I’ve been trying to understand how givers (whose condition describes of power deficiency) negotiate with takers (whose condition describes of power source) to restore their lack of power. I observed these days, those givers humbly redirected and indicated their deficiency to moralise takers’ distribution of power; and this is when I reached to recall a word ‘reappropriation’.

As such, today I got myself thinking about this term ‘reappropriation’. To be frank, I don’t know much about this term. Surely anyone would have heard of adjectives like appropriate or inappropriate, but not much of reappropriate . But after what I have read to understand the term to be precise in anthropology and cultural studies, I would summarise that reappropriation (generalisingly) means using inappropriate words intentionally to make those become appropriate. It is a process of regaining power that has missed by oppressed minorities. Wikipedia defines this term as; the reabsorbing of subcultural styles and forms into mass culture through a process of commodification: the mass-marketing of alternate lifestyles, practices, and artifacts. In a sexuality context it is much easier to understand; the use of term gay or queer, of which usage had been to oppress the minorities and now became more acceptable and tolerante. Just with using these terms, a reclaim has made, which gave those minorities more personal and socio-political empowerment.

Of course, reappropriation doesn’t limit in only sexuality context, even though it is mostly used on identification context; I found some political reappropriation terms like; Yankee (instead of uncultured colonists), Sans-culottes (instead of people of the lower classes), and Nigga (instead of African Americans). I can’t recall anymore some texts I read of Saussure and Chomsky arguing that language structure defines our social structure, since what we produce is mere representation of what we think in language or so. Likewise, choosing words to speak up and to write down either empowers or oppresses our identity and social relation, so as to our social structure in general. Surely this argument might confront possible counterarguments, but the fact that some words are reminded inappropriate because they represent social or psychological oppression is persuasive.

My question is not about whether there has been a reappropriation process under this roof (I just simply don’t care of this political power game occurring within human relations; so please don’t ask me whether I’m bothered or not, people!), but whether this reappropriation empowers its indicator (or giver, as mentioned above). Whether just saying out loud those simple reappropriating words influences on social psychology or not seems fascinating to reveal. Then I recalled some counter-experiences I had on street; some street venders coming to me asking if I can buy some of their gums or tissues to support their family. Basically in these cases, the givers-moralising-takers-to-restore-power scheme lays same. They would have given me their products with an exchange of my power (in such case, capital; as capital always is a strong form of power) to them. Then what can be the variable that leads to different result-out? Why the empowerment didn’t occurred by those street salesmen?

I impetuously concluded that intimacy grade between the givers and the takers is a strong variable to empowerment directed by reappropriation. Since I don’t practice such strong intimacy with those street salesmen, their reappropriation doesn’t moralise me to distribute my power to them. On the other hand, I happily distribute my power to my beloved beings under the same roof because I practice strong intimacy with them; because I do identify myself with them more visibly. Perhaps those reclaimed words mentioned above, like gay, queer, yankee, sans-culottes, and niggas, could empowered because the social takers, who are in their time majority, reached stronger intimacy to those minorities and identified themselves with those very minorities. It’s called social integration. Surely it is a virtuous circle that when a society achieves higher grade of social integration, the distribution of power carries out fairer way. When personal intimacy and social integration level are lower, reappropriation wouldn’t be as successfully empowering. Therefore, personal intimacy and social integration aren’t requisite but prerequisite condition for empowerment directed by reappropriation.

What kind of reappropriation process are we observing in Latin American countries, or here in Argentina? What words have been oppressing minorities and how these have integrated to social psychology? How those countries’ ever segregated social classes would influence such reappropriation process? In France, Sans-culottes meant people of the lower classes as an insult and discrimination, but they reappropriated their label being the very symbol for French Revolution, declaring social and economic equality. What will us observe in Latin American case?

(*I didn’t bring French case to make a comparison. I wouldn’t follow cultural and developmental imperialism where says Latin American social development would trace that of France. I just have put these reappropriation cases in United States and in France because they are the ones mostly studied.)


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