Privilege Blog

High WASP x People’s Republic of Berkeley

Had a conversation with my sister today. She said she thought that there were sub-groups of WASPs. Yes, I said, exactly what I was thinking! She said, our family isn’t Southern golf-playing WASPs or even New England thrifty WASPs. Actually, I said, you are sort of High WASP meets People’s Republic of Berkeley. Yes, she said, I am a hippie intellectual WASP. But, I said, the WASPs in Palo Alto (another Bay Area suburb in case you aren’t familiar with our area) are also sort of hippie intellectual, but different. Yes, she said, they have more money. They have good cars. They care more about the environment, we care more about poverty.

My sister said, it’s almost a diaspora of WASPs. She pronounced the word correctly. Yes, I said, exactly what I was thinking! Except I didn’t know how to pronounce the word. However, she said, diaspora is largely used in another context. So the word needs to be used carefully. My sister meant that when you come from a background of privilege, you really don’t get to coopt certain terms. She’s right. That’s part of post-modern High WASPism. Of liberal North California High WASPism. You know your ancestors exploited all kinds of people. You applaud the flood of ethnic and economic and class diversity across America. You are very careful not to speak openly (except in the privacy of the entire Internet of course) about the privilege you have experienced. But even so you do feel wistful about your childhood, because, after all, as a child you only knew that it was your mom and your dad and your brother and your sisters and your house.

Even if everyone was blond. And the house was, well, big.

So we will just say that sub-species have developed. Originally, high WASPs came from Boston, New York, or Philadelphia. And the distinction between the three cities mattered. Now the WASP archetype seems to have devolved into relative – although fun – trivia. Where to buy cute pink and green picture frames? Should a man wear a faded red sports jacket and call it chambray? Is that the end of the discussion? Does it matter if it is? And what are high WASPs like in Chicago? In St. Louis? In Charleston? In Cleveland?

What I am saying is true. I just can’t tell if it matters.

6 Responses

  1. You crack me up. I was raised by Northern California academics. Not WASPS per se, but not… anything? Wait, am I a WASP?

  2. Yeah me too on the Northern California academic parent. I was a little early for it to be both mom and dad…On the topic of, are you a WASP? Well, are you white? Check. You Anglo-Saxon? (This can be any part of the UK, and the Saxon piece certainly covers at LEAST Germany). Check. Your family was Protestant? Actually that could be Episcopalian, Methodist, Quaker, and I don’t even know what else. Pretty much it means not Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jewish. Those are the straight demographics. Now of course, there are many subtle markers. We can talk about those too:).

  3. I think you are spot-on. The preppy bloggers you see on the internet – are they all really High Prep? I associate High Prep with a much more understated, worn-out-Sperry-Topsiders, Kennebunk, Mummy, and boarding school feel, not this persistent color-everything-pink-and-green and buy-buy-buy. I’d love to hear you talk more about this, because I think the preppy bloggers seem more Southern Prep than High Prep.

  4. Oh. Ah-ha. Yes, well, I was raised by Berkeley intellectuals, and we are really quite protestant in the most liberal of ways. But I have nothing in common with those pink and green girls at all. We like used book stores, the value of thrift, thinking for yourself but being articulate while doing it, and the old fashioned work ethic. With a twist of 60’s radical, of course.

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