‘Reclaiming my time’

signifying, reclamation and the activist strategies of Black women’s language


  • Adrienne Ronee Washington Norfolk State University




African American Women’s Language, counterlanguage, indirectness, intersectional feminism, resignification, semantic inversion, signifying


This article explores how three Black women use the culturally grounded semantic and rhetorical strategies of their discursive practices as modes of symbolic action to negotiate alternative relationships and realities in response to white supremacist patriarchy. Placing intersectional feminist perspectives in conversation with the literature on African American Women’s Language (AAWL), this research applies critical discourse analysis to cases of signifying and resignification (semantic reclamation). The interactions are taken from contemporary US politics: Maxine Waters’ assertion ‘Reclaiming my time’, Therese Okoumou’s literal retooling of ‘We go high’ and Samirah Raheem’s reclamation of ‘slut’. Together they highlight three iterations of Black womanhood, intersectional feminist linguistic resistance and gendered, racialised defiance to engage with the inclusive scope of feminism. The application of interdisciplinary insights to the analysis of AAWL herein demonstrates the broader social significance and productive political power of language for intersectional women, people of colour and gender minoritised communities.

Author Biography

Adrienne Ronee Washington, Norfolk State University

Adrienne Ronee Washington is an assistant professor in the Department of History and Interdisciplinary Studies at Norfolk State University, Virginia, USA. She specialises in sociocultural linguistics and focuses primarily on Africana speech communities in the US and Brazil through explorations of intersectional womanhood and African American Women’s Language; language, inequality and social justice; and the different relationships between identity, linguistic ideology and social meaning in language.


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How to Cite

Washington, A. R. (2020). ‘Reclaiming my time’: signifying, reclamation and the activist strategies of Black women’s language. Gender and Language, 14(4), 358–385. https://doi.org/10.1558/genl.41607