White Anglo-Saxon Protestant: Wikis


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White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, commonly abbreviated to the acronym WASP, is a sociological and cultural ethnonym that originated in the United States and Canada and is used to refer to Americans of British descent[1].

The term originated in reference to white North Americans from the British Isles, particularly of English descent, who were Protestant in religious affiliation. The purpose of the term was to emphasize a perceived ethnic and cultural difference between English and Irish Protestants versus German and French settlers in America, and to reinforce social stratification between the various cultures.[2] It initially applied to people with histories in the upper class Northeastern establishment, who were alleged to form a powerful elite. Working class whites in the U.S. are generally not referred to as "WASPs", even if they are Protestants of Anglo-Saxon descent.[3]

In modern North American usage, WASP may include people apart from English background, from Dutch, German, Huguenot (French Protestant), Scandinavian, Scottish, Austrian, Swiss, Scots Irish (Irish Protestant), Irish and Welsh backgrounds.[4] Members of these nationalities are not always Protestant, and today there is lesser regards to religion when using the WASP phrase.[5] The use of this term may also be used to describe "preppy" speech and mannerisms.[4] Strictly speaking, many people now referred to as "WASPs" are not Anglo-Saxon – that is, the descendants of the Germanic peoples who settled in Britain between the 5th century and the Norman Conquest.[6] Therefore, in modern times the term WASP is sometimes applied to individuals who are technically non-Anglo-Saxons, including people with:



The term was popularized by sociologist and University of Pennsylvania professor E. Digby Baltzell in his 1964 book The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy & Caste in America. However, its first recorded use was by Andrew Hacker in 1957.[8]

The original use of WASP denoted either an ethnic group, or the culture, customs, and heritage of early English (as opposed to Irish) settlers in what is today the United States. The New England Yankee elite were almost exclusively of English extraction (the remainder consisting mostly of prominent Dutch and French Huguenot families), although some early German immigrants, largely Protestant, arrived in the Dutch colony of New Netherland, which later became New York after the English took over in 1664.

Sociologists William Thompson and Joseph Hickey noted the impreciseness of usage. Conceived as the upper class, well-educated of Northwestern European descent residing in the Northeast, they note that such WASPs are a minority of all Americans.

The term WASP has many meanings. In sociology it reflects that segment of the U.S. population that founded the nation and traced their heritages to ... Northwestern Europe The term... has become more inclusive. To many people, WASP now include most 'white' people who are not... members of any minority group.
—William Thompson & Joseph Hickey, 2005, Society in Focus[2]

In the Southwestern United States, "Anglo" is often used to contrast white Americans of non-Spanish European ancestry from Hispanics or Latinos. It has a broader meaning than WASP, as it is often used to include all non-Hispanic English-speaking whites, regardless of their religion or ethnicity.

When using the term, speakers vary widely in terms of which ethnic group they mean to designate, and some even apply it to all Protestants of European descent. For that reason, use of the term WASP has broadened significantly since its first use. Others use it only to refer to only certain members of this ethnic group and its culture.

In the United States, it is most prevalently used today to contrast early-arriving settlers from Northwestern Europe with the descendants of later arriving groups from Southern and Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. The term WASP is also often used in a way which is synonymous with "The Establishment", reflecting the privilege that white Protestants in America allegedly enjoyed.

Usage of the term WASP has grown in other English-speaking countries, such as Canada and Australia, which were settled by members of similar ethnic groups. In Canada, the French-Canadian population also struggled with economic issues, its cultural identity, and its willingness to join the British-Canadian dominated establishment.

White and Protestant yet non-Germanic speakers such as Finnish people may also be disincluded.

Culture attributed to WASPs

The original WASP establishment created and dominated the social structure of the United States and its significant institutions when the country's social structure took shape in the 17th century until the 20th century. Many scholars, including researcher Anthony Smith, argue that nations tend to be formed on the basis of a pre-modern ethnic "core" that provides the myths, symbols, and memories for the modern nation and that WASPs were indeed that core.[9] Many only associate America's elite institutions with WASPs when it has usually been a wider, more diverse group. The class is still imagined to dominate America's prep schools and to older universities including those in the Ivy League. It is true that these elite institutions were important to a certain portion of WASPs, who were taught skills, habits, and attitudes and formed connections which carried over to the influential spheres of finance, culture, and politics. While people labeled as "WASPs" were not a truly insular society, well into the 20th century, prominent families preserved an attitude toward marriage carried over from the British aristocracy: A desire to marry was carefully scrutinized by the potential groom's and potential bride's families. Marriage was often influenced by the desire to maintain each party in their social and cultural milieu. This is something that occurs in other cultures as well.

WASP families, particularly the affluent upper-class, are sometimes stereotyped as pursuing traditional British diversions such as squash, golf, tennis, badminton, riding, croquet, polo, and yachting, pursuits that served as a marker of affluence. Social registers and society pages listed the privileged, who mingled in the same private clubs, attended the same churches, and lived in neighborhoods — Philadelphia's Main Line and Chestnut Hill neighborhoods, New York City's Upper East Side, Park Slope, Brooklyn, or Central Park West; Boston's Beacon Hill and Georgetown, Washington D.C. are fine examples. Also they may live in smaller wealthy communities like Cape Cod; Martha's Vineyard; Nantucket; Greenwich, Connecticut; Newport, Rhode Island; Kennebunkport, Maine and The Hamptons near Montauk, New York.

It was not until after World War II that the networks of privilege and power in the old Protestant establishment began to lose significance. Many reasons have been attributed to the WASP decline and books have been written detailing it.[10] Among the reasons often cited is increased competitive pressure as the WASPs themselves opened the doors to competition. The GI Bill and government-supported mortgage programs brought higher education to the children of poor European immigrants, and the postwar era created ample economic opportunity for a growing new middle class. The shifting of a significant portion of American economic activity and wealth to the Sun Belt during the latter part of the 20th century, as well as the advent of a more globalized economy, can also be attributed to the "decline" of the Eastern-based WASP establishment. Nevertheless, white Protestants remain represented in the country's cultural, political, and economic élite.[11]

Related political culture

WASPs were once major players in the Republican Party, particularly in the Northeast. Politicians such as Leverett Saltonstall of Massachusetts, Prescott Bush of Connecticut, and Nelson Rockefeller of New York exemplified the liberal Republicanism of their social stratum, espousing internationalist views on foreign policy, supporting social programs, and holding progressive views on issues like racial integration and abortion. Catholics in the Northeast and the Midwest, usually Irish- or Italian-American dominated Democratic party politics in big cities through the ward boss system. Catholic (or "white ethnic") politicians failed to find favor among WASP voters even in the liberal Northeast.[12]

A popular example was the 1952 Senate election in Massachusetts between John F. Kennedy and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., decisively split along sectarian lines. By the 1980s, the liberal Rockefeller Republican wing of the party was marginalized, with the ascent of the conservative Republicans led by Ronald Reagan. Today, there are no Republican members of the six New England states' delegations to the U.S. House of Representatives, and only four Republican senators out of twelve. No Republican presidential candidate has carried more than one New England state since George H. W. Bush won four of six in the 1988 election.

See also


  1. ^ Sociology in Our Times by Diana Kendrall, Edition 7, 2008
  2. ^ a b Thompson, William; Joseph Hickey (2005). Society in Focus. Boston, MA: Pearson. ISBN 0-205-41365-X. 
  3. ^ http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0018-2680(198722)27%3A2%3C275%3ATACATC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-R
  4. ^ http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,838862-4,00.html
  5. ^ "Celtic ancestry dominant in Briton". http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1393742006. Retrieved 2006-11-29. 
  6. ^ "Astor family referred to as WASP". http://www.irows.ucr.edu/papers/irows27/irows27.htm. Retrieved 2006-11-28. 
  7. ^ Andrew Hacker, 1957, American Political Science Review 51:1009-1026. WASP was also used by Erdman B. Palmore in The American Journal of Sociology in 1962.
  8. ^ The Decline of the WASP?: Anglo-Protestant Ethnicity and the American Nation-State
  9. ^ BOOKS OF THE TIMES; The Decline of a Class and a Country's Fortunes - New York Times
  10. ^ Davidson, James D.; Pyle, Ralph E.; Reyes, David V.: "Persistence and Change in the Protestant Establishment, 1930-1992," Social Forces, Vol. 74, No. 1. (September., 1995), p. 164
  11. ^ Are The Wasps Coming Back? Have They Ever Been Away? - Time


  • Allen, Irving Lewis: Unkind Words: Ethnic Labeling from Redskin to Wasp (NY: Bergin & Garvey, 1990)
  • Cookson, Peter W.; Persell, Caroline Hodges: Preparing for Power: America's Elite Boarding Schools (NY: Basic Books, 1985)
  • Davidson, James D.; Pyle, Ralph E.; Reyes, David V.: "Persistence and Change in the Protestant Establishment, 1930-1992"; Social Forces, Vol. 74, No. 1. (September., 1995), pp. 157–175.
  • King, Florence: WASP, Where is Thy Sting? (NY: Stein and Day, 1977)
  • Pyle, Ralph E.: Persistence and Change in the Protestant Establishment (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996)
  • Schrag, Peter.: The Decline of the WASP (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1970)

External links



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