A Little Break – What Is A WASP Again?

I’ve now been asked this question, “But what is a WASP?” several times. In comments. In emails. And since I have the dadgum word all over the blog it does seem like it’s my responsibility to offer a definition. But first, let me just say, that sheer fact that I am asked this question is a sign of the how much the world has changed since I was born. In 1956. Yeah, so last century.

WASP stands for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. We could leave it at that. But like many terms, WASP has several layers of meaning. White. Well, we all by now should have a sense of the multiple meanings there. Largely these days, and for the good, around what it means to be not-White. As for Anglo-Saxon, it used to matter whether you were from Italy, France, Spain, vs. England, Scotland, Ireland, or Germany. How silly. Germany/Belgium/Netherlands are the Saxons. Protestant. In the days when WASPs ruled the Western world, they were really only trying to tell the Catholics to go away. They failed.

But that’s the simple meaning set. The complex meaning is, um, gee, complex. It was the WASPs who originally took sail across the ocean, left England and Scotland, maybe Ireland behind, and founded America. It was those same WASPs who then set mysterious standards, complete with arcane artifacts, to keep what they had won to themselves. I hope the values can be separated from the artifacts. And that’s what I’m trying to do here. Along of course with amusing myself and anyone else who shares may somewhat cracked sense of humor. To speak for the values that drove us to leave behind our sheep farming and cheese making, and to brave very deep oceans. The values that created a society in which we really did believe that your effort trumps your origin. And to repudiate, if it still matters, the devolution of that society into a place of too many noses in the air for no good reason.

And I suppose to discuss the various pieces of cloth we all like to wrap ourselves in. Because at the end of the day fun is still a good goal.

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  • First of all, I think we can say with some fairness that I am younger than you. Significantly. Though, you are noticeably younger than my parents. Anyway, I too am *shocked* that your getting asked this question.

    Secondly, if you haven’t read Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates, well, you have your marching orders. Go get a copy today, right after you finish your coffee.

  • Largely, as I have come to understand it, we believed in this philosophy of a disregard for origin because we generally fell into two separate groups, neither from particularly good stock or lineage at the founding of our nation.
    1. Christian, English peasants who wanted a wholesome, pure land where work ethic ruled – MA colony
    2. Mercenary merchants/peasants/indentured servants a.k.a. white slaves who wanted to work to make a profit in a new land – VA colony
    Or we could also recall the English prisoners and debtors forming other colonies. Not particularly born of noble blood, no?
    And no, while none were of high birth, with high principles, we formed our notion of culture.
    What saddens me today is that WASP's have become socially cannibalistic towards one another. Or, I have noted how quickly many a WASP will jump to say, "Well, yes I am one, but I don't feel like I am," or how quickly they abandon their heritage to assume that of others. We have removed ourselves from the cultural core of our heritage, which was largely our work ethic and religion, and thus many of our young people, of my generation, are ashamed to admit their lineage. All the while we have non-WASP's who think things work as they did many years ago and try to assume our culture. Perhaps this is borne out of insecurity in a world where we no longer have order.

  • Loved this post, and thank goodness, I'm all clear on that. I was thinking snotty and now I know different

  • I love Anon's comment. I am from a mixed marriage – WASP on one side that came over before the Revolutionary War, and 1880s French/German Catholic emigrant on the other. Lots of social and origins tension.

    Mom raised me with her beliefs – WASPs are special and better and we have a place in the world. Um, I'm a 40 year old business and tax lawyer – I don't see that we do have much of a place. The rush to be hip and relevant on one hand and the strong loyalty and community support of newer emigrants on the other (Jews, Chaldeans, anyone who had to scrap for success and position and reaped the benefits of hard work) seems to me to have left the WASPS on the sidelines. Maybe this happens after you "make it" and decades/centuries pass….

  • Awww… your post reminded me of when my dad first introduced me to Erich Segal's books. It's been a while, but I love them to this day.

  • Hello LPC, I enjoyed this post so much that I have shared it over on my FaceBook page.

    Always Bumby

  • Hi- Gosh your blog is very interesting so far. My question is- I'm a WASP myself but I've never heard of "high WASP". What's that?

  • Bumby – Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

    teardropsouffle – It's a term I found and started using to get more precise about my culture vs. the way that WASP gets bandied about. Here's my definition. http://www.polyvore.com/what_is_high_wasp/set?id=13077411. :).

  • can you also tell us something about the ROTHSCHILD Clan today? Who, where, etc…

  • Its interesting how every ethnic group has a strata of subgroups that think they are superior.High Wasp superior to other Wasp,Askenazi Jew superior to Sephardic,Spanish superior to Latin American etc,etc.I am grateful that my Ashkenazi/Spanish/French/Italian background has let me see the ethnic purebred as superior for the total nonsense that it is.

  • Hi Anonymous on 10/16: Do Ashkenazi Jews really think we’re better than Sephardim? Many people my age (early 30s) seem to think being Sephardic is very cool. They get to eat rice on Passover, for goodness’ sake! ;)

  • Sadly, I see this all and incredibly racist.

    WASPs founded America?

    What does that say about the people who were here first?

    Additionally, I have some very strong concerns about the privilege and the fear of losing it. This is what has given rise to groups like Stormfront.

    The popularity of these exclusionary philosophy is very sad. But if this is what makes you happy, I leave you to it.

    9:15 am
    Monica said...

    I looked it up in Wikipedia this is what I found- Im confused?

    White Anglo-Saxon Protestant or WASP is an informal term, often derogatory or disparaging, for a closed group of high-status Americans usually of British descent with a Protestant background who supposedly wield disproportionate financial and social power

  • Danielle – I think the Ashkenazi/Sephardim relationship is fascinating, and not know to many.

    Lorrwill – Most of all I have to say, do not trivialize Hitler and Nazisim. Being white doesn’t automatically mean being racist. That said, you are right, that the WASP founding of America was done in a time when people didn’t understand humanity as we do now. I’d like to separate the individuals, some of whom had very valuable traits, from their era, which was deplorable in the way many were treated.

  • Hello,

    Love your posts! I’m a newcomer to your site, and love it. Are you familiar with the book by the wonderful Florence King called “WASP, Where Is Thy Sting?” which came out in the early ’80’s. Never really thought about what it was to be a WASP until I read it!

    8:15 am
    Lisa said...

    I haven’t read that. I really do have to catch up on the background to all this. Thank you.