Uneasy Street: Privilege, Ambivalence and Moral Worth Among Wealthy and Affluent New Yorkers
In contrast to common representations of wealthy people as advantage-seeking, conspicuous consumers, these respondents express ambivalence about their social advantages, describing emotions such as shame, guilt, and fear. Responding to negative stereotypes of rich people, they struggle to occupy their wealth in morally worthy ways: by working hard, consuming reasonably, appreciating what they have, and raising children who are not “entitled.” They also try to discipline their ambivalent emotions, often by avoiding talking about their material and experiential privilege. (Some say talking about money is “more private than sex”). Ultimately, I argue, their quest to inhabit privilege appropriately responds to and reproduces a dominant idea about inequality in the US: that legitimate privilege is about how you feel and what you do, not how much you have. That is, entitlement is legitimate based on behavior and affect, not on distribution.