From Academic Kids

Alternate meaning: Wasp (disambiguation)

WASP (an acronym for White Anglo-Saxon Protestant) is a term that originally denoted the culture, customs, and heritage of the American élite Establishment. The term was first popularized 1 by E. Digby Baltzell in his 1964 book The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy & Caste in America. It originally included members of the U.S. Protestant upper class: the descendants of colonial-era immigrants from the British Isles—especially England and Scotland—who belonged to the Presbyterian, Congregationalist, and Episcopalian (Anglican) denominations of Protestantism. Usage of the term is growing in other English-speaking countries settled in part by similar groups, such as Australia.


Modern use

Use of the term WASP has broadened significantly since its coinage. Today any English-speaking Protestant of European descent may be called a "WASP", though most are not descended from Angles, Saxons, or members of closely-related tribes. Jews, Catholics, and Orthodox Christians are excluded. This usage is ahistoric, simplistic, and trite: white Protestants in the U.S. comprise myriad national backgrounds and denominations. They may be the descendants of English, Scots, Welsh, Cornish, Scotch-Irish (Irish Protestants, who composed about a quarter of the early colonial population), German, Dutch, Scandinavian, or French Huguenot people. They may belong to Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, Congregationalist, Dutch Reformed, Quaker, Baptist, Evangelical, or even Mormon denominations. They are found among all social classes, even those derogatorily called "poor white trash".

The term is most commonly heard in the East Coast region of the United States, and generally is used to contrast 'old stock' white Americans with the descendants of later European immigrants, such as Irish-American Catholics, Jewish-Americans, Italian-Americans, and other "white ethnics".

In the Southern states, where relatively few immigrants settled after the Civil War, WASP is less commonly used. Outside of areas such as southern Louisiana and south Florida, where French settlement and Latin American immigration have been prominent, white Southerners are mostly descended from people of British Isles origin. However, a historical divide between English settlers of the tidewater areas of coastal Virginia and the Carolinas and the heavily Scotch-Irish upland areas in the interior is still reflected in speech patterns and other aspects of culture.

In the Western United States, 'Anglo' is often used to distinguish English speaking white Americans of European ancestry from Hispanic peoples of any race, and has a broader meaning than 'WASP'. Distinctions between British-Americans and people of other European backgrounds tend to be less prominent than they are in the East.

The original WASPs

The original WASP élite's hold on the social structure of the United States was, since the early 1800s, ironclad. Legacy admission to prep schools and Ivy League universities taught habit and attitude and formed connections which carried over to the influential spheres of finance, culture, and politics. Intermarriage preserved large inherited fortunes. Diversions such as polo and yachting marked those with sufficient wealth and leisure to pursue them. 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 Boston's Back Bay are two notable examples—governed by covenants designed to separate the well-bred from the merely wealthy. As the 19th century progressed, WASP enclaves sprung up in the Midwest and West, in places like Grand Rapids, Michigan and Pasadena, California, spreading the practices and perspectives of the group beyond their traditional redoubts.

Newer immigrants lacked property or connections with the U.S. political system—creating, at first, a profound difference in wealth and influence across religious and ethnic lines. In response, they formed parallel institutions in politics (e.g. the political machines of New York City and Chicago), business, and academia which, in time, eroded this concentration of wealth and influence in WASP hands. It was not until after World War II that the networks of privilege and power in the old Protestant establishment began to lose significance. The GI Bill brought higher education to the children of poor immigrants, civil rights legislation did away with explicit discrimination in the workplace, and the prosperity of the postwar era created ample economic opportunity and a large new middle class. Nevertheless, the old WASPs are overrepresented in the country's cultural, political, and economic élite. 2

Aspects of the WASP establishment remain visible today. They are still upper middle to upper class educated Protestants, members of high society, with prep school and Ivy League educations. They are concentrated in New England and the Northeast. However, these regions now have majority Catholic populations and are no longer WASP heartlands, while Ivy League schools no longer admit WASPs in disproportionate numbers. The term does not easily apply in the Midwest, where generations of Yankee, Pennsylvanian, and Virginian pioneers and farmers settled, though this region maintains a Protestant majority. In the South, the term is more common than in the Midwest, although because the South is dominated by Evangelical churches, which have different educational and cultural values than their Northern American Protestant counterparts, Southern usage of the term does not fit its traditional definition. In general, the American protestant heartland is now located in the Midwest and South, and as protestants from these regions achieve national prominence, they reflect an entirely different family of the species of WASP than once existed on the Eastern Seaboard.

WASP's are a majority of the population in the US, by heritage if not current religious affiliation (most Protestants on the Coasts are now agnostic). As such, they represent a class of people whose wealth, status, and residual power are resented, and increasingly if not already, the term is a race-based term of derogation, envy, or insult.

Connotations and stereotypes

The term is redundant because all Anglo-Saxons are white. Also, 'WASP' associates the bearer with an unpleasant stinging insect and the terms for unpleasant dispositions (e.g. waspish) which derive from its name. (The acronym ASP was briefly popular, eliminating the redundancy but keeping the association with a poisonous animal.)3 It is sometimes pejorative, intended to drag up the history of racism, nativism, anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, and attitudes of cultural superiority among the white Anglo-Saxon population. "To this day in America, the Wasps are the one group about which--in a politically correct atmosphere--jokes can be made with impunity." remarks Joseph Epstein, in Washington Monthly, 2001 (http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.epstein.html). Various stereotypes attach to the term: WASPs are thought to be boring, greedy, frugal, snobbish, distant, compulsively hardworking, emotionally undemonstrative and arrogant4. Nonetheless, some Americans will happily self-identify as WASPs, though not without twinges of guilt—another WASP stereotype. Because the term WASP is factually a racial epithet describing the skin color of a people, it is generally thought to be a racist term though its use heretofor has been mild.

See also

Physicaly,the stereotype remains that many in this group bear typical "English" looks; tall in stature with slight builds along with pale sunburnt skin complexions, fair hair, blue eyes. Another stereotype prevails that a propensity for alcohol often seems to give many people from this ethnic group beet red faces. This along with a physicological inability to tan in the sun may have given rise to the offensive term, redneck. This latter term is a classic racist term as it describes how pale skin color turns red when working outside or in the fields, increasingly jobs for the lowest classes.

WASP in the media


  • Note 1: Erdman B. Palmore coined the term in his article "Ethnophaulisms and Ethnocentrisms" (The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 67, No. 4. (Jan., 1962), p. 442), but it was Baltzell who popularized it.
  • Note 2: Davidson, Pyle, Reyes, p. 164
  • Note 3: Allen, p. 110
  • Note 4: Allen, pp. 114–116


  • 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. (Sep., 1995), pp. 157-175.
  • Pyle, Ralph E.: Persistence and Change in the Protestant Establishment (Westport, CT: Praeger, 1996)de:White Anglo-Saxon Protestant

eo:WASP ja:ワスプ


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