- The term Anglo-Saxon’s nationalist connections and whiteness in predominantly English-speaking countries extends beyond laypeople’s vernacular. Such refusal to understand the racist roots of the discipline and how the term inaccurately represents the early English demonstrates an insidious and obstinate ignorance within academic institutions. By and large though scholars are coming to understand the need to interrogate the use of this term and many are keen to find terms that represents scholars, the field and the early English more accurately. Medievalists, in particular, were able to remove ‘the Dark Ages’ from scholarly lexicon (although it is sometimes used in common parlance among laypeople) because it mischaracterized the early medieval period. In this way, we have a benchmark for removing an incorrect term.
- Returning to Beowulf, part of its intrinsic value and richness as a text lies in the fact that it was not produced in isolation or hermetically sealed off insularity; thus, white nationalist claims to it are amiss. By the same token, replacing the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ with one that is more historically accurate does not mean we are ceding to white supremacists. Their ideology is based on myth, where selected terms, symbols, and narratives used to promote hate and white identity are wholly inaccurate and/or misappropriated. Just as the field of early English studies is evolving with new evidence and findings that help shed light on the early medieval period, scholars specializing in this period also have an obligation to interrogate the language they use, and to guide the public’s understanding of these historical terms. We do not need to change previous scholarship or titles that include the term ‘Anglo-Saxon’ or ‘Anglo-Saxonist,’ but we can take corrective measures because language is always evolving. It matters when we use a racist dog-whistle term like ‘Anglo-Saxon,’ which is neither neutral nor correctly represents the early English people. As the old adage goes: ‘words matter.’
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