White Anglo-Saxon Protestants  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) is a term for an elite social class of powerful white Americans of British Protestant ancestry. WASPs often trace their ancestry to the colonial period. The term is often used as a pejorative to attack their historical dominance over the financial, cultural, academic, and legal institutions of the United States. The term is usually used to distinguish upscale WASPs from ordinary folks of various White ethnic origins. Sociologists sometimes use the term very broadly to include all Protestant Americans of Northern European or Northwestern European ancestry regardless of their class or power.

Originally, the W in the acronym probably meant "wealthy" rather than "white," as the term "white Anglo-Saxon" is redundant, and WASP traditionally refers only to an elite group, not to all people of English descent.

Until at least the 1940s, WASPs dominated society and culture. They did not control politics, but did have a strong voice in the Republican Party leadership. They usually were very well placed in major financial, business, legal institutions and had close to a monopoly over high society. The postwar era saw a steady movement of new groups into high positions. WASPs developed a style of understated leadership.

During the latter half of the twentieth century, WASP dominance weakened, with non-WASP Americans increasingly criticizing the WASP hegemony and disparaging WASPs as the epitome of "the Establishment". Since the 1960s, the power of WASPs has sharply declined against the growing influence of ethnic groups, including non-whites.

The term is also used in Australia, New Zealand and Canada for similar elites.

See also

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