My previous post got far more comments than I expected, and evolved into a really interesting conversation about the ways in which privilege (or what Phoebe and commenter i. would prefer to call "advantages") works in the academy; thanks to all who participated. I didn't realize it would be so controversial to suggest that, even within the community of scholars, some people get at least mildly preferential treatment based on such things as the name on their Ph.D., the influence and connections of their dissertation director, the institution at which they work, and/or the nature of their employment (adjunct or lecturer/VAP, tenure-track or tenured).
To me, this is all self-evident, though it's important not to overstate the case or to conflate all forms of privilege as equivalent. It is certainly not true, at least in the academy as it currently exists, that all one needs is a degree from the right school or the right advisor to be put on the fast-track (or indeed any track) to success, and it's ridiculous to imply that someone with tenure at no-name public college has the same kind of power and influence as a scholar with tenure at an Ivy. But both of the latter have more power and influence than an adjunct or a grad student.
But whatever you choose to call these forms of professional privilege, I feel strongly that those of us who have them need to be cognizant of the fact. Most of us, I think, realize that our professional standing (whatever it may be) is partly the product of luck and not purely the result of our own intelligence and hard work; we may have worked damn hard, but we know that there are far more deserving candidates than get admitted to strong graduate programs or than get jobs--and it takes nothing away from our own achievements to acknowledge at least a little luck along the way.
However, we need to recognize that there are structural forms of privilege at work as well. Someone whose dissertation topic suddenly becomes hot just as she's going on the market is lucky, as is someone whose unrelated secondary specialization just happens to be something a particular department needs in addition to the primary specialization identified in their job ad. But those with a fancy Ph.D., or a well-connected advisor, or a tenure-track job, or tenure, are positioned to reap (which does not mean that they will reap!) advantages beyond what their work alone might get them. Saying that isn't saying their work has no merits, or that they haven't worked hard. It's just that they can get a hearing, or be taken more seriously, than those with less standing even when the latter may be equally smart and have done equally strong work.
I think that those of us with tenure are also privileged members of the profession, wherever we teach, and even though getting tenure should be even more obviously the result of hard work than getting into a fancy grad program or getting a tenure-track job in the first place. But even apart from the inequities in some tenure processes (those who get unjustly denied tenure or those who squeak through for dubious reasons), the term "privileged" applies here, because those who have it have the job security, and the professional standing, credibility, etc., to say and do things that people without tenure might think twice about. Tenure may be earned. But the advantages and protections it confers often go beyond what's earned, in the sense that not everyone who earns it gets it--and not everyone even gets the opportunity to earn it.
In acknowledging my own privileges I'm not apologizing for them, just as I don't apologize for my good luck. I'm proud of my hard work and I'm convinced that my work is also, generally, good work. But I wish to avoid the dual temptations both of thinking that everything I've gotten is purely the result of merit and of seeing as "privileged" only those who have the things I wish I did. I don't have every advantage, but I have many, and my successes have surely come just a little bit easier because of them.