I actually had to chuckle earlier at something that’s really not at all funny. spread a short Facebook thread where a Muslim customer posted an inquiry to his local ice cream store and received an incredibly racist comment in return.

What made me laugh was the statement of the president of the store that they only deliver within Montana.

Montana used to be my dream destination when I was a teenager and still feel a longing when I think of the “Big Sky Country”. When you got there you have the choice – plains or mountains? Either is spectacular in its own way.

I watched “A River Runs Through It” in the cinema when I was 15 or so and fell in love with the natural beauty of the place.

I ended up watching the movie four times at the cinema alone – not to speak of the countless times on video. I started reading books about Montana – books with lots of photographs of mountains, forests, crystal clear lakes and rivers and of course abundant wildlife.

I must have talked my parents’ ears off about Montana until – when I was 17 – they unexpectedly suggested we plan a three-week road trip across the Western States of the US. So it happened that I actually got to visit “my” Montana. The place of my dreams.

No, it didn’t let me down! It really is a stunning piece of the world and I thoroughly enjoyed our week on a ranch there, riding horses and altogether simply enjoying our spectacular surroundings.

Besides nature there isn’t much else which is what (still) makes it so appealing to me.

When I read the above Facebook thread I couldn’t help but picture a person who has never left his own country – possibly not even his own state – and most likely not having any urge to do so either.

I haven’t been able to find out much about racism or xenophobia in Montana, but I did find that 90% of the population is white and 6,4% American Indian and Alaska Native. One could therefore think that xenophobia can easily develop in an area with so little cultural diversity.

Nevertheless at least “Montanans” should be used to meeting people from around the world since tourism is one of the main services that the state’s economy is based on (next to lumber and hard rock mining as well as ranching, wheat farming, oil and coal mining).

Also, as I witness daily, cultural diversity unfortunately does NOT protect from xenophobia. Cape Town is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world and besides the world famous tensions between blacks and whites we also find them between coloreds and whites, blacks and coloreds, whites among themselves, between all of the above and the Asians and finally between all of the above and all the different immigrants and refugees. And probably more.

So what is it then that causes xenophobia? That is a question takes more than one blog post to explore.

Certainly lack of education as well a deeply rooted belief systems that is very hard to change. Here an interesting article on that topic:

What made me laugh originally was a stereotype picture in my head of the “typical” small-minded small-town man not wanting to have anything to do with the world outside his home town. Nevertheless by having that thought I involuntarily become “racist” myself; allowing myself to judge people I don’t even know.

Didn’t I have only positive encounters with the locals when visiting Montana? And aren’t there negative exceptions and black sheep where ever we go?

Once again I must remind myself to start with myself – even when criticizing.

In fact the store’s president who wrote the comment really claims he never meant it as a racist comment, but just made a mistake. Who knows – maybe he really did.

Whatever the case – his comment gave me a good opportunity to dust off some old beliefs of my own that had been hanging around collecting cobwebs at the back of my head.

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