‘‘Privilege saturates’’ — and privilege stains. Which might explain why this word pricks and ‘‘opportunity’’ and ‘‘advantage’’ don’t. ‘‘I can choose to not act racist, but I can’t choose to not be privileged,’’ a friend once told me with alarm. Most of us already occupy some kind of visible social identity, but for those who have imagined themselves to be free agents, the notion of possessing privilege calls them back to their bodies in a way that feels new and unpleasant. It conflicts with a number of cherished American ideals of self-invention and self-reliance, meritocracy and quick fixes — and lends itself to no obvious action, which is perhaps why the ritual of ‘‘confessing’’ to your privilege, or getting someone else to, has accumulated the meaning it has. It’s the fumbling hope that acknowledging privilege could offer some temporary absolution for having it.
The New York Times on privilege.