White Anglo-Saxon Protestant

Oh look, a WASP nest.

The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or WASP, is a largely American trope that today is used to describe the stereotypical "white" person in American culture. It originally referred to New Englanders, New Yorkers, and Tidewater Southerners from wealthy backgrounds, generally either Congregationalist or Anglican doctrinally, but eventually came to be applied as well to inland Southerners, Midwesterners, and Westerners of Anglo-Saxon (English) descent as well, regardless of income level or sect. It also came to be roughly synonymous with "Protestant", so that even Protestant Irish, Dutch and Germans were eventually called WASPs. "White Protestants" wasn't as snappy a term as WASP, so usage of the term has hung around. The stereotype might be extended to upscale (or not) Catholics or Jews who either intermarry with Protestants or internalize Protestantism as the standard for "normal" Americans.

It became important in the mid-20th Century to point out the features of this group as a social reality. Generally WASPs were in positions of privilege and power, and could discriminate against those who were not white and not Protestant. Ethnic minorities (which may no longer be minorities in the New Millennium), non-Anglo Europeans, Jews and Catholics in particular suffered discrimination and exclusion. Critics pointed out how WASPs would see themselves as the "true normal" of the cultural world. This, ironically, has led to the "generic and bland" stereotype that so many WASPs are now desperate to shed.

This can easily be conflated with the Boston Brahmin, First Families, Secret Masters of the World stereotype. They (the two stereotypes) share a core characterization, but WASP is a straight-up acronym of a demographic label, a thing you might find in a sociology text, not having any of the Old Money, Secret Masters baggage.

Strictly speaking, it is hard to generalize about WASPs. Since a majority, albeit a slim majority, of Americans are both white and Protestant, WASP covers a lot of demographic ground. They can be either liberal or conservative politically (socially conservative but culturally liberal being a frequent combination), and fill any socioeconomic niche. This trope is primarily for figures who meet the most stereotypical WASP criteria: affluent, generic, bland personalities, usually with a little bit of stuffiness inherited from their British ancestors and a preoccupation with keeping up appearances.

The Hays Code had this effect on classic Hollywood cinema, perhaps unintentionally. Although written by two Irish Catholics, the Code was enforced mostly by Midwestern Protestants, and the films under its jurisdiction cut according to their biases. American characters in movies from the 1930s and '40s do tend to all look and talk the same, with only minor regional differences. Non-Nordic Americans don't tend to show up - and when they do, they are "conventionalized" as much as possible. Not until the 1950s would the existence of "ethnic" whites be openly acknowledged.

Japanese people might be viewed as the Asian counterpart to this trope, given their stereotypically stern work ethic and obsession with tradition and good manners; while Chinese people and other Asian nationalities might fill in for Catholics (more colorful, festive, and "spiritual"). And within China, there is a similar divide between Confucianism (middle class and socially conservative) and Daoism (more earthy and countercultural, and roughly akin to some "ethnic" flavors of Catholicism), with Buddhism viewed as exotic and associated with foreigners (so, analogous to Islam in the West).

Compare and contrast with Christianity Is Catholic. See Irishman And A Jew for a similar ethnic fault line, with Jews (usually) filling the WASP niche. Other associated tropes are Upper-Class Twit, Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense, Jerk Jock, and Valley Girl.


Examples:

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    Film 
  • Played with in Mississippi Burning: The phrase is used word for word at the not Klan meeting. This is after said meeting's speaker had repeatedly called the US government things like "atheist, Communist, Jewish, nigger-loving", among other things. Earlier in the movie the speaker had also essentially given a detailed explanation about why the county was so racist, doing things like the "Jews are all bankers in a moneymaking conspiracy" conspiracy theory and various other crackpot pieces of garbage like that. Paradoxically, then, the Klan's attitude here is partly rooted in resentment of wealth, which of course could also be applied to WAS Ps; the speaker was obviously arguing in an ethnic/religious vein rather than a class-based one. note 
  • Pretty much everyone on the "snobs" side of Caddyshack. And in their natural element (the golf course) to boot!
  • Gordon Gekko in Wall Street tells his protege Bud Fox that he bought himself a seat on the board of the Bronx Zoo because, "One thing you gotta learn about WASPs: They love animals, but can't stand people."
  • William "Bill the Butcher" Cutting in Gangs of New York, based on the real life William Poole, leader in the anti-immigrant pro-WASP "Know Nothing" movement. His "dignified" WASP exterior is naturally only skin-deep, making him a Psycho Supporter of more traditional WASPs.
  • In Scent of a Woman, the very upscale and exclusive prep school Charlie goes to in New England is absolutely packed with rich WASP kids, (very much Truth in Television) and they have all the attitude and snobbery that goes along with that.

    Literature 
  • Tom and Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby. They look down on the title character, a Teutonic Midwesterner whose real name is James Gatz.

    Live Action TV 
  • Greg Montgomery and his parents, Edward and Kitty from Dharma and Greg. They know that they're Protestant, but they're not sure which denomination. Edward thinks they're Lutheran. Kitty reminds him that they're Episcopalian.
  • Charlotte of Sex and the City is delighted to learn what a WASP is and that she is one.
  • In an episode of Scrubs, J.D. and Dr. Cox have a very reserved, patrician patient who sends his wife out of the room for the dirty talk. He confirms, when J.D. asks, that he and his wife are, in fact, WASPs. This makes his passionate declaration that when he makes love to his wife, he's closer to her than any other time and only then can he truly express his love for her all the more effective.
  • Charles Emerson Winchester III from Mash, played by David Ogden Stiers with a full-on Boston Brahmin accent. Winchester has occasionally shown distaste for Catholic ethnicities, in one episode being heartbroken at the news of his sister getting engaged to an Italian, remarking to the (Irish) Catholic Father Mulcahy, "at least she's not marrying an Irishman".
  • Mulder of The X-Files is implied to have grown up this way; his family owned homes in Martha's Vineyard and in Connecticut and his father worked for the government. His parents don't terribly fit the stereotype "WASP" usually seen, but then we don't see much of them at all in terms of personality, so who knows? His portrayer, David Duchovny, is actually from a mixed Jewish and Scottish background. ("It's very hard for me to buy anything.")
  • David Webster from Band of Brothers comes from a stereotypically WASP family, which sets him apart from most other members of Easy Company, who are of working-class and/or immigrant backgrounds.
  • On Copper the Morehouses are rich white Methodists and are a distinct contrast to the rest of the characters who are predominantly poor Irish Catholic immigrants or free blacks.
  • Andy Bernard on The Office (US) has all the hallmarks such as a loud "preppy" fashion sense, privileged upbringing, and prestigious education.

    Professional Wresting 
  • Chavo Guerrero's suburban, golf-playing alter ego, "Kerwin White."

    Video Games 
  • The preps in Bully. Preppy dress sense, exclusionary attitude, swanky off-campus living, and of course the game is set in a private boarding school.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Family Guy contained a one-off Cutaway Gag in which Peter and Chris observe "a WASPs' nest". The camera pans out to show that he's observing a WASP family having dinner. Lois's parents, Carter and Babs Pewterschmitt, are about as rich and WASP-y as you can get. One of the many reasons her father hates Peter is because Peter is Irish Catholic. That and he's a poor, fat, drunken, rude, idiotic slob. Later subverted when it is revealed that Lois' mother is Jewish. Carter is then shown treating Babs pretty much exactly the way you would expect him to treat any non-WASP.
  • The Simpsons
    • Played up in "Scenes From the Class Struggle in Springfield": the Simpson family (who are of French, American Indian and Black descent as well as Anglo-Saxon) trying to work their way into the high society of Marge's "preppy" high-school friend and ultimately deciding that lifestyle isn't for them.
    • Charles Montgomery Burns. Truth be told, different episodes of the show have provided wildly conflicting backstories for him. Originally he was from a clan of stuffy New England snobs (Monty himself being a Yale graduate), but then the episode "Rosebud" hinted that he was Jewish, the older brother of comedian George Burns (although that was obviously a Cutaway Gag, and not to be taken seriously). More recently, it's been mentioned (in "The Color Yellow") that he is the son of a Southern slaveholder.
    • Actually averted by the white residents of Springfield much of the time, who are more likely to be ethnically Irish (politicians and cops), Italian (the mobsters), Polish/Russian Jewish (a children's TV clown), vaguely Slavic or Hungarian (the bartender), or of Dutch/German/Scottish/whatever descent and low-income more often than not. The town's founder, Jebediah Springfield, could be considered the 19th-century frontier variant of this trope: earnest, morally righteous, and stiflingly wholesome. note 
  • Futurama brings us Judge Whitey, who only likes the "pore" people who do his pores at the spa, and has declared the poverty a mental illness.
  • Jay's parents on The Critic fit this trope perfectly. Extremely wealthy, they throw a debutante ball for their daughter where they try to set her up with a boy so WASPy that he has literal blue blood. Franklin is too much of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander to show many of the character traits beyond a Locust Valley lockjaw accent and a penchant for alcoholism, but Eleanor has the blatant classism and "proper" demeanor to the point of coldness; she remarks once that she would cry if not for the fact that tear ducts have been bred out of her family. There's also Republican Vice Presidential candidate, Rich Dullwasp.