More on Cities and Fear

After some good discussion on Cities, Neighborhoods and Fear, I was drawn right into Eula Biss’ wide-ranging reflection on living in a “bad” neighborhood in greater Chicago, called No-Man’s Land. (HT: Revealer) Touching on topics from Little House on the Prairie to gentrification, Biss provides a meditation on fear and American culture that is well worth your time. Here’s a little excerpt:

Now that we share a bookshelf, I am in possession of my husband’s dog-eared, underlined copy of Barry Glassner’s The Culture of Fear. Every society is threatened by a nearly infinite number of dangers, Glassner writes, but societies differ in what they choose to fear. Americans, interestingly, tend to be most preoccupied with those dangers that are among the least likely to cause us harm, while we ignore the problems that are hurting the greatest number of people. We suffer from a national confusion between true threats and imagined threats.

And our imagined threats, Glassner argues, very often serve to mask true threats. Quite a bit of noise, for example, is made about the minuscule risk that our children might be molested by strange pedophiles, while in reality most children who are sexually molested are molested by close relatives in their own homes. The greatest risk factor for these children is not the proximity of a pedophile or a pervert but the poverty in which they tend to live. And the sensationalism around our “war” on illegal drugs has obscured the fact that legal drugs, the kind of drugs that are advertised on television, are more widely abused and cause more deaths than illegal drugs. Worse than this, we allow our misplaced, illogical fears to stigmatize our own people. “Fear Mongers,” Glassner writes, “project onto black men precisely what slavery, poverty, educational deprivation, and discrimination have ensured that they do not have—great power and influence.”

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