Jamie Johnson on "WASP" ethnocentrism

I managed to read a few of Jamie Johnson's blog posts. Here are some highlights.
Being a Wasp myself, and having grown up around people like the gentleman I mention above, I have heard many of them complain about their diminishing influence from the previous generation to the present. In private, many of them go beyond declaring that the establishment is dead as a way of expressing disappointment over their losses. They say things they shouldn’t, things that reveal a rather troubling independent identity and a deep-rooted sense of superiority. The recent renaming of the New York Public Library for Blackstone Group C.E.O. Stephen Schwarzman is something that caused quite a hidden stir within certain Wasp circles, but I will address that issue more specifically in future dispatches.

["The Decline of the Wasp Establishment"]

“It is an act of the worst kind of buffoonery. Schwarzman is horrid.”

This statement was made to me by a member of New York’s Protestant establishment in reference to the renaming of the New York Public Library on 5th Avenue at 42nd Street after Stephen A. Schwarzman, C.E.O. of The Blackstone Group, a private equity company. In March news broke that Mr. Schwarzman had agreed to lead the library’s current fundraising campaign by pledging a $100 million gift—the largest the institution has ever received. In recognition, the library announced, his name would be would be carved onto the exterior of the lion-guarded building.

Within senior Wasp circles, Schwarzman and the distinction he has received for his gift have set off a great deal of concealed outrage. [. . .]

Old-guard Wasps appear to feel threatened by the newly rich and their growing influence around the city, and dismiss new money as “tasteless and gauche.” When discussing vastly rich people who are Jewish, it is not uncommon for them to use anti-Semitic slurs.

“Come on, though, it’s not Wasps giving Jews a bad name, it’s Jews giving Jews a bad name,” one said. Another told me, “The Astors knew to put their name on the inside. It’s good taste, that’s the difference between old and new.” [. . . ]

The comments reveal the extent to which elitism, and, even more disturbingly, anti-Semitism still exist in certain quarters of Wasp society. [. . .]

Eric Richman (35), a successful attorney and New York social fixture who counts the great-grandchildren of William Randolph Hearst and the children of Saul Steinberg among his many friends, was quick to tell me that ” I don’t think about it, being Jewish doesn’t come up when I’m around my Waspy friends.” But as our discussion continued, he remembered an awkward incident he had had with one of his closest friends (a Wasp). They were out drinking and once they had gotten a little drunk they started to talk about religion. He recalls a moment when the tenor of their conversation changed and his friend looked at him and said, “what’s interesting about you is that you have no idea how much we really hate you.” Eric told me that it was probably intended to be a joke, “yet there was something in it that seemed like a real residual sentiment. After a few drinks, it came out.”

["Wasps Stung over Renaming of the N.Y.P.L."]

There is an old line that Wasps use when joking around in private about the exclusivity of their clubs. One member will say to another, “What do you mean we don’t have any diversity here? There are plenty of Catholic members.” I’ve heard the line delivered a number of different ways, but most people who use it go on to attribute it to the president of their particular club. It’s something of an urban myth. Wasps at dozens of clubs all claim the line as their own, proudly asserting that it was originally employed by their president in reference to their club.

I’ve always felt that the line, and especially the strong desire to take credit for it, reveal the extreme degree to which Wasps like to distinguish themselves from others. Wasp culture is obsessed with exclusivity and defining distinctions in order to support a sense of superiority. [. . .]

Wasps have even developed their own code words to help differentiate themselves from non-Wasps while at the same time avoiding accusations of classism or bigotry. Some of the terms are appropriated from elite British culture, but the origins of others are difficult to determine.

Acronyms like N.O.C.D. and P.L.U. are used to mean Not Our Class, Dear and People Like Us. W.O.G. refers to Wealthy Oriental Gentleman or Wise Oriental Gentleman, depending on whom you ask for a definition. “Hawaiian,” “Canadian,” and “Eskimo” all have special meaning as well. I was told by one Palm Beach resident that Hawaiian refers to anyone who pronounces the phrase “how are you” as “how ahhh yaaa” (they are howahhhyaaa-n, or Hawaiian). Another Wasp told me that, at the establishment-incubating St. Paul’s School in the early 1960s, Hawaiian was used to refer to anyone who was considered “trash.” To say that someone is Canadian can mean that they are Jewish, and Eskimo that they are African American [Note: this is backwards].

Insider terms like these are dying out quickly in the Protestant establishment, but they continue to represent the unfortunate historical tendency of Wasps to deliberately exclude people on economic, religious, and racial grounds.

["The 'Diversity' of Wasp Clubs"]
And returning to the topic of "WASP" decline:
When I asked her what reasons were behind the change, she told me that she couldn’t be sure. She said that social changes are hard to perceive as they are happening. She also told me that she believes the break-up of the Protestant establishment took many of its affluent members by surprise. “People weren’t so aware of it, and then, bang, there it was.”

Oatsie’s grandson, Nicholas Mele, 25, who was on hand when I spoke with his grandmother, told me that he wasn’t exactly sure either what caused the collapse of the Wasp establishment, but he felt certain that it had eroded. Nicholas grew up in what has traditionally been considered the center of the Wasp world. He attended Phillips Academy Andover boarding school and spent summers in Newport, Rhode Island. Now, though, he sees those places “only as time capsules.” Nicholas currently lives in New York and notices few remnants of the Wasp establishment. Other than a few friends he knew as a kid, he doesn’t encounter affluent Wasps in Manhattan. “Being pretty or having a great career matters today in New York,” he says, “but not being a Wasp.”

["Oatsie Charles Recalls the Wasp Heyday"]


notuswind said...


You highlighted some great passages.

I particularly enjoyed this offering:

"She also told me that she believes the break-up of the Protestant establishment took many of its affluent members by surprise. 'People weren’t so aware of it, and then, bang, there it was.'"

Talk about feckless idiots who weren't aware of their own demise until it already happened! This observation is in complete agreement with the comment I made a few posts ago, about how American WASPS were hopelessly myopic.

n/a said...

Or hubristic, perhaps.

notuswind said...


Sorry about all the ranting.

As a descendant of the old WASP establishment my feelings on the matter are rather personal.

n/a said...


Please feel free to post whatever you want.

I defend "WASPs" because they seem to be shit upon from all sides, and much of the criticism is wildly misplaced. But I do agree there's room for criticism, particularly when made in the spirit of learning from past mistakes.

Myopinion said...

WASPS died when the "P" died.
They used to be traditionally religious but abandoned that for pseudo-social activism.