This has been a big thing on my Twitter for a few weeks now, but now two big things have happened:
- the International Society of Anglo-Saxonists has formally voted to change its name, because “Anglo-Saxon” is a fundamentally racist turn of phrase and is being used by white supremacists.
- The Washington Post did a story about the controversy and the name change!
As part of this shift, I’ve gone through all of the Early Medieval articles on Quatr.us Study Guides and changed them so they don’t use the word Anglo-Saxon anymore. Instead, I’ve used “English” or “local people” or “invaders” or whatever seemed most helpful. This might seem like a small thing, not worth worrying about. After all, we’ve been using Anglo-Saxon for a long time. Wouldn’t it just be confusing to change it now?
King Arthur’s Britain
Beowulf and Grendel
The Norman Conquest
But look at it from the point of view of Mary Rambaran-Olm, who was a vice president of the organization until she resigned over this question. She’s got brown skin. Because of that, she had trouble finding work as an Anglo-Saxonist scholar, because people said she didn’t look like one. That’s not right. We need more diversity in medieval studies, not less.
“Anglo-Saxon” came into use in the late 1800s when racist British scholars wanted to convince everyone that white British people deserved to rule the whole British Empire – basically the whole world – because white British people were naturally smarter, braver, more energetic, and just better in every way than everybody else in the world. Using “Anglo-Saxon” today still conveys that racist – and wrong – idea. And it suggests that everyone in early medieval England was white, which is also far from the truth. As DNA research has shown, there were black people, brown people, East Asians, and every kind of people in Roman England and in Early Medieval England.
Even worse, using the phrase “Anglo-Saxon” helps today’s white supremacists – fascists and Nazis – by making it seem like their racist ideas have science and history behind them. They don’t, and we shouldn’t let them appear that way.
This change is a step in the right direction, but it’s not the end of the road. It’s not just the Anglo-Saxonists, but medievalists in general – and classicists even more! – who need to change their work so they stop misrepresenting the ancient and medieval world, in the service of European/American imperialism and to the benefit of racists and fascists. I hope that Quatr.us Study Guides works towards that goal every day, but please let me know if you see me missing that mark.
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