The rolling hills and lush green fields of western Pennsylvania, along with a great multitude of wonderful neighbors nearby, shaped my upbringing.
One thing I did not experience was diversity in terms of having neighbors, friends and classmates who were people of color.
In fact, in a high school of about 400 students, all but two or three of my fellow students were white.
Recognizing the community where my sister and I were being raised was lacking diversity, my late mother did her best to introduce my sister and me to experiences outside our small rural white town.
We not only learned about other cultures than our own but also spent time with her friends of color, especially her friends in the Black community.
It was only through those experiences and friendships with people of color that I started to form after high school that I started to hear about personal experiences about racism.
And it was through these stories I began to see the privilege I had as a white person.
Following the tragic death of George Floyd, there have been so many enriching articles about the injustice of systemic racism, the realistic truths of police brutality toward people of color, and the need for those of us who are white to be aware of our white privilege.
Anything I write cannot compare to what has already been written, but I do want to take a moment and reflect on the need for us to demand an end to systemic racism.
Part of this process requires those of us who are white to recognize our white privilege and to do what we can to stand in solidarity with our family, friends, neighbors and co-workers who experience racism.
Sometimes, I think when white people hear the words “white privilege,” they automatically find themselves feeling the need to be defensive.
And I must admit when I first heard this term several years ago, my first instinct was to get defensive.
It felt like I was being lumped into the same category as those rich white kids on the television show “Gossip Girl” who lived in Manhattan, had fancy clothes and had parents who owned summer houses in the Hamptons.
“Who is to say I am privileged?” I recall asking myself. “I grew up as a somewhat poor country kid!”
I came to realize even though I was from a lower-middle-class, blue-collar rural white family, I did (and still do) have privilege.
For me, I can walk into a store without having a manager look at me suspiciously. I can get pulled over by a cop without having to fear for my life. I don’t have to worry about experiencing discrimination from a job based on the color of my skin.
“When I say you have white privilege, I am not saying you don’t have problems,” one of my friends who identifies as being African American once shared with me. “I am just saying this is one problem you don’t have.”
For those of us who are white, it’s important for us not only to meet and form friendships with people from different cultures and experiences than our own, but it’s also important to have conversations with people of color who are our friends, family members, neighbors and co-workers about their experiences with racism.
This not only allows us to see the injustice of systemic racism that goes back to slavery that we cannot experience, but it also allows us to see the need to stand in solidarity with people of color and to call out, and condemn, racism when we see it.
I am committed to doing whatever I can to continue to find ways to educate myself and to be part of the chorus of voices declaring that “Black Lives Matter.”
And if there is something more I could be doing, then I want others to bring it to my attention.
We can no longer stand on the sidelines.
We must facilitate conversations with our white friends, family members, co-workers and even our children about racism, while also doing what we can to help bring an end to systemic racism not just in our own country, but in our own communities.
Christopher L. Schilling is an ordained Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) minister, hospital chaplain, and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve.