“WE did not abuse any...” and here he pauses as disgust at the next word chokes him, “Privilege.”

Being among the media pundits who had criticised the Celtic squad for its merry jaunt to Dubai, I suppose I should consider myself one of the targets of Neil Lennon’s ire.

Sorry to say, but the coach’s explanation for why he took his players overseas to train during a pandemic hasn’t swayed me from the position that it was the wrong thing to do.

But watching Mr Lennon put air quotes round the word “privilege” was an interesting example of the ever growing problem with the word.

It’s difficult to make a case that professional footballers - men earning more cash in a week than most of the UK earns in a year - aren’t privileged. It’s harder still to make a case that having an exemption that allows you to travel to luxury sunshine destinations during a pandemic, when the vast majority of the country are bound at home for months on end, isn’t too a privilege.

A more reasonable and truthful response would have been to acknowledge that privilege, apologise for misjudging the mood and move on.

But for all his angry bluster, perhaps the Celtic boss has a point about the way the players’ privilege has been used to damn them.

The importance of privilege, and how it gives unearned rewards to certain groups based on gender, race and sexuality, has been mainstream for several years now but hearing people acknowledge their own privilege seems increasingly rare. 

That’s because the assigning of privilege to a person has stopped being an observation of fact and a useful tool in the dismantling of power structures, and become an insult. It has become a means of silencing debate.

Research from academics at the London School of Economics, Edinburgh University and Royal Holloway University published this week asks why people from “privileged class backgrounds often misidentify their origins as working class”.

The paper argues that the middle and upper classes claiming working class backgrounds is performative and a way of distancing themselves from the structural privileges they enjoy.

Simply, they want to be seen to have worked hard to get where they are. Understandable - the idiom being born with a silver spoon in your mouth isn’t a flattering one.  

From time to time some white, middle class male celebrity will lament the fact that persecuting the well off is the last acceptable prejudice. Posh-bashing, I seem to remember it called, when the actor Benedict Cumberbatch complained about being pigeon-holed for being plummy.

It’s a position very difficult to feel sympathy for.

Claims of working class roots pop up all the time, particularly on social media. A well spoken and well to do interviewee said to me recently that she went to school in Govanhill. My instinct was to ask if she meant Hutchesons’ Grammar’s primary school. My gut did not let me down.

It’s quite a special brand of chutzpah to piggy back on the social struggles of the much beleaguered Glasgow community because you don’t want to admit to living in Bearsden. 

But it’s all relative. I write a lot about Govanhill and I live there but I’ve been told on several occasions I don’t have the right to claim insight or understanding into the area’s issues because I live in the “nice part”. Fair enough, I accept that’s a privilege, but should it bar me from having an opinion?

Allegations of privilege are designed to block people from discussion, though. And so attempts to assimilate other people’s hardship are common.

Take millennials. When my cousin’s son turned 20 last year it only just occurred to me that, while he likely views me as an old lady, we’re both millennials.

One born at the dawn of the era and the other one sneaking in before dark, our life experiences could not be more different.

And yet the category of “millennial” is one categorised by the universality of its struggle. From op-ed pieces about how millennials will never climb on to the property ladder, to how we’re drowning in student debt, to how we can’t afford marriage or children or avocados.

Much of these narratives is just nonsense. Our generation stands to inherit significant pots of money averaging more than a lifetime’s earnings and are being given a leg up onto the ladder thanks to our much-maligned Boomer parents. Mostly importantly, our experiences are too broad to be homogeneous. 

In the heady online world of philosophical dispute and political fury, an allegation of privilege is an instant knock out. Trying to place individual privileges into a hierarchy becomes a game of legitimacy Jenga.

Straight privilege means you can’t take a view on LGBT+ issues. Cis privilege urges non-trans people, women in particular, to examine their status.

Straight, white, middle class male? No one needs to hear you.

It’s vital, in order to create a more equitable and just society, to understand and acknowledge privilege. But using privilege as a weapon against your opponent backfires when it puts people’s backs up.

It becomes meaningless when people try to wriggle out of it. So, middle class people pretending to be working class. Comfortable Millennials going along with half truths about their struggles.

There are those, too, who appropriate communities they don’t belong to in order to distance themselves from their privilege.

It’s understandable. No one likes to be told they are the problem. Few will comfortably acknowledge they benefit from the struggles of other people. 

It’s a matter of chance whether a person is born middle class, black, straight, trans or really good at a game that makes them rich. but if we choose to distance ourselves from structural problems we’re not getting stuck in to fix them.

Like Mr Lennon, the more energy people spend trying to deny the reality of their circumstances, the less energy they’re using to push back against inequalities.