A taste for juneberries

Last spring as the juneberries were just ready to bloom, the temperatures dropped well below freezing. My husband was worried. He was afraid the frost would damage the proliferation of juneberry buds that covered the bushes in our orchard. We got lucky. The buds were young enough that they survived and turned into more blossoms than we have ever seen since planting those bushes years ago. Now the berries are ripening  with such profusion that the birds seem to have tired of eating them. They have left ample sweet ripe fruit for our freezer.

My husband, who grew up in the coulees of the Little South Pembina River Valley, loves juneberries. He has written poetry about them. He considers them sacramental. He has preferred ways to eat them, like pie and mixed with rhubarb. His favorite, however, is warm from the sun, right off the bush. He is very happy these days as he gathers handfuls of the deep purple morsels every time he walks by the orchard.

Ironically, our only granddaughter does not like juneberries. She is not a particularly fussy eater for a seven-year old. She loves lutefisk and cucumbers and meat of any kind. She just doesn’t like any fruit that is filled with seeds. Her little brother loves strawberries, raspberries and especially juneberries.

Grandpa cannot understand how anyone can dislike juneberries. He keeps offering the granddaughter berries, extolling their sweetness. He is totally baffled at his beloved grandchild’s disdain for his favorite fruit. Since he finds them irresistible, it is impossible, in his mind, that she could possibly have tried them and found them distasteful.

My husband’s view that juneberries must be universally found tasty is not so different from how we all see the world. If for us juneberry sweetness is truth, then it must be so for everyone else.

Each of us has a specific window on the world which tells us what is real. Our experiences frame of picture of the way things are. If we have worked hard, studied hard, been responsible with our money and been successful in our chosen field of work, we do not understand why that is not possible for everyone else. Our view of how the world works is the result of our experience and the experiences of those close to us.

I have a hard time understanding how a black person feels when being pulled over for a broken tail light or a speeding violation. I have not been raised to fear policemen. I have never had a bad experience with law enforcement officers. Being pulled over makes me nervous and more than a little embarrassed, but not frightened. As a white-haired senior citizen, my interactions with security guards, Border Patrol officers, and policemen are usually polite, non-confrontational, undefensive. Probably those officers also have had very few bad interactions with white haired senior citizens. We approach each other without fear.

Because that is my experience and is real for me, doesn’t mean that is the same for everyone. I am not stopped because I am in the wrong neighborhood. I am not searched in airports. I don’t fit the profile of someone carrying illegal substances. My younger friends tell me their experience is different, especially if they are young males with long hair, brown skin, hispanic names or too many tattoos. Their past interactions tell them a different reality.

I don’t know what truth is for young black men. Statistics show that we put them in jail far more often than their white counterparts. Part of that is because more of them are poor and cannot afford a good lawyer. African-Americans, especially young people, have experienced a different reality than I have. The world through their frame of reference is quite different from mine. That doesn’t make theirs wrong and mine right nor does it make theirs right and mine wrong. Reality is framed by what we know. Whether I see the racism of our legal system, our economic system and our social order or not, there is a different outcome and a different truth for young black people in our country. Their frustration and anger comes from the reality of their lives.

I also do not have any life experiences which help me know what a police officer experiences when he/she answers a call or makes a traffic stop. I think it might be a very nerve-wracking situation, especially because past experiences may have been violent, confrontational. Defensiveness and caution would be natural and even wise because of the many possible scenarios that could ensue.

Since I can only understand the world through my own experiences, my education or my relationships with others, I can’t tell others what should offend them, worry them, or frighten them. I can only listen to what they tell me they fear. Having never been bullied by someone in a uniform, it is unfair of me to tell someone who has been unfairly treated that their fears are unfounded and they only need to be respectful, polite and law-abiding and everything will be all right when they are pulled over. Their experiences and the experiences of their friends may tell them something different. If I have never been hurt by racist name calling or discrimination in seeking a job, I have no right to tell someone else they shouldn’t be overly sensitive.

For a police officer to abuse their position of power is inexcusable. Those who do must be held accountable. They disparage the vast majority of brave, caring, professional public servants who do their job well. Those who have power and carry guns must be more than well-trained. They should be experts in defusing explosive situations and de-escalating others’ fear and defensiveness. They are rightfully held to a higher standard than others.

Random shootings of police officers are inexcusable. Doing so in protest of real or perceived abuse of power is counter productive. While vengeance may seem justified, it never results in positive cultural change.

Ignoring the complexities of a diverse society and the cultural and institutional discrimination that others experience will not make life better for anyone. Acknowledging  that truth is not absolute and reality for someone else looks different from what I see might be a place to start.

Even juneberries don’t taste delicious to everyone.

Copyright © 2016 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains