I am still learning about the concept of privilege as used in academia and among those who work for a more fair society. I am beginning to see the utility of the concept and the truth it represents. But I'm also starting to wonder whether talking about privilege outside of a couple of very narrowly-defined venues is good.
I observe that people who are defined as having privilege (and I have some kinds of privilege) when confronted with that definition are often defensive, as if they were being accused of personal agency both in whatever degree they had opportunity to benefit from privilege and as unwitting or willing accomplices in keeping privilege defined to exclude others.
It's also my perception that some people who are defined as not having privilege use that as an excuse for past failure or future lack of effort.
Because I usually focus on agency, I notice that both of these reactions arise partly out of the privilege concept's disregard of effort on effects. Granted, privilege isn't (as I understand it) really about results but about opportunities, it must still be that observing privilege happens because of results. The other major contributor to these reactions is failure to explain (on the one side) and understand (on the other) that privilege in this sense is not a personal, individual thing: it is really only meant to be discussed in terms of an entire society.
What if talking about privilege makes individual situations worse? If so, it's because the concept is basically jargon: it has a narrow definition that is not aligned with the casual use of the word. It doesn't mean the kind of privilege that we talk about when we take away a child's privilege to watch tv because he didn't do his chores, or the kind of privilege that we say driving is when we take away her driver's license because she drove drunk.
Most people who are using this jargon definition of privilege toss the word into conversation without explaining exactly how they're using it, without giving the context that would illuminate the conversation instead of send it off into the same boring dead-end of "But I didn't have privilege, even though I'm a white male! Look, I don't even own a home!" I suspect they do this because they're accustomed to conversing with people who already share their context, and that defining terms isn't necessary or happened long in the past in most of those conversations. And that's a big mistake: it leads to wasted effort, misunderstandings, and alienation.