If you’ve just landed here, I need to say one thing before you read. My Twitter bio says “I try not to be a jerk,” and that’s true. I’ve got good intentions; I may occasionally fail to execute. If you’ve been around for a while, all this will be familiar, perhaps restated all in one place to answer a few questions. In either case, welcome.
When I first began this blog, I wrote often about my cultural sub-group, which I chose to call “The High WASPs.” Over time, I have found the topic demanding. It’s hard to write well about social class, and it requires a lot of emotional stamina, particularly when writing about oneself. As a result, I’ve since moved towards a more inclusive blog space, one characterized by posts on what to wear and thoughts on mothering.
But I would like to be able to keep social class in play, if only now and again. Let me now explain my purpose. In future, when I take up the matter, I will point people here for context.
Is There Any Universal Value to Discussing High WASPs?
Is there anything to be gained from what is clearly on the one hand a quirky personal deconstruction? Well, of course, only you all can judge, and I welcome your civil thoughts. But here are my hypotheses and hopes.
- High WASPs were the ruling class. An exposé of the ways of power is fun and often useful, even if we rely on domestic narrative.
- The High WASP story is almost always told incorrectly. Somehow, I know not how, a WASP trope grew wild like kudzu. All that Muffy and Biff, gin and tonics, Lilly Pulitzer and lobster pants, it’s wrong. Not 100% wrong, but nowhere near 100% correct. When I was in first grade, at my alternative progressive school, the kids teased me and Mark Callaway (of Callaway Vineyards) and said we wore gold underpants. We didn’t. Look, do you think those early American families could have forged a nation and made so much money in the process were they universally fatuous? No? I thought not.
- In some ways, the culture has left its mark on etiquette, and knowing the ins and outs can help you to feel comfortable and even prevail in certain situations. For example, job interviews. weddings, visits to the boss’s house. It can be useful to hear the back story around etiquette, and how to take the approach of those to the manor born. Even if you quite happily decide to ignore everything I say. I could always be wrong.
- Think about the High WASP aesthetic. It’s useful to consider how, after generations of abundance, we value aesthetic restraint.
- High WASP culture had some other good bits. Leaving England and Scotland took guts. Writing the Constitution took brains. Building a culture that despite its sins is still the most inclusive in the world, took heart.
- The High WASP culture is on its way out. In 2012 the most immediate routes to financial success involve athletics, creative performance, or technology. All characterized by quite different behaviors than the High WASPs of yore. We may want to keep Please and Thank You in place, even while Just Saying No to hegemony.
But Seriously, Why Break the Rules of Good Behavior?
Really, you might wonder, unconvinced, it’s crass to talk about money and class, right? Why break the rules?
As has been true throughout history when it comes to breakage of rules, it’s my heart’s fault. Who doesn’t want to tell their own story, at some point? The process can unfold in many ways, I suppose. If you’ve lived through trauma, maybe you learn how and when and who to tell what serves you. If you’ve had a happy childhood, averagely well-to-do yet unique in cultural details, I hope there’s little difficulty in the communication.
But what if the telling of your warm family stories often implies, “I had more than you did. More, in fact, than my fair share?” How to tell friends about your family when one dear memory involves an actual silver spoon? I remember our silver iced tea sippers. Shaped like a heart, at the base, with a straw for the stem. No big deal. My mother would take them out of the silver chest for us to fool around with, every now and again.
This was probably all more complicated because we’re liberals, my family. Secular liberal intellectuals, at that, who tend to associate with other such, where wealth is not overly appreciated.
So from one perspective, I’m doing as anyone who likes to talk might. Telling my story, explicating my culture, remembering what’s been dear to me or difficult over the years. In this process, I could either pointedly avoid mentioning privilege, or lay it bare. I chose the more naked path.
This choice is also personal. I have been a blurter for much of my life. Luckily for everyone, less so as I age. But as a young woman, I was the one who said the thing. That thing others were thinking about and pointedly not saying.
High WASPs, you have to know, value discretion. Many things are silently barred from discussion. In particular, one does not speak of privilege except in jest.
“Yes, this Christmas in Jamaica is costing us more than a small nation state’s transportation budget. “
Followed by jocular and embarrassed laughter. Things both said and not said.
My careful writing on High WASPs sails me towards a unified self. In the calm and privacy of writing I replace both suppression and blurting with intention. Jibing and tacking toward a small true island.
Which reminds me of summers on Cape Code and Swallows and Amazons but that’s neither here nor there.
Third question. And some answers.
All that said, what is a High WASP again? A WASP with old money and a lot of education, if I’m blunt. In my case, the old money is almost gone. The fortune, fading, fading, faded.
It’s also possible that the High WASP is only a construct I’m building out. A framework to tell a personal story that might otherwise have been reduced to spoons and secrets. A construct characterized by a rather nice balance of values and aesthetics, at that.
Anything big has multiple meanings.
Thank you for reading.
Dessert plate from some miscellaneous china Dad gave me
Tiffany’s bowl from my maternal grandmother. We share a monogram.
Small detail from my maternal grandmother’s Federalist mirror
My paternal grandmother’s Harris tweed jacket from the 1940s
Gold Georg Jensen bracelet from my maternal grandmother, bangles I bought when I returned from India, Chinatown link bracelet, “Victory” charm from Dad’s side. Only modern High WASPs can countenance the exuberance of an “arm party.”
A needlepoint pillow Aunt Priscilla made me when I was at Princeton. In case I wasn’t clear, the family affection matters way more than the ugliness.