“By the time I learned what I was really supposed to be afraid of in New York, I knew better—which isn’t to say that there was nothing to be afraid of, because, as all of us know, there are always dangers, everywhere.

But even now, at a much more wary and guarded age, what I feel when I am told that my neighborhood is dangerous is not fear but anger at the extent to which so many of us have agreed to live within a delusion—namely that we will be spared the dangers that others suffer only if we move within certain very restricted spheres, and that insularity is a fair price to pay for safety.

— Eula Biss, “No-Man’s-Land,” The Believer, Vol. 6, No. 2

This weekend, my mother brought up her discomfort with my plan to go to Guatemala alone for Easter. “Isn’t it dangerous there? And what are you going to do, anyway?”

I tried to placate her by talking about Antigua’s tourist police, and noted that I had hacked it alone in Delhi for quite some time — not to mention the fact that I’m navigating New York living with relative aplomb. But what I really wanted to do was launch into a tirade about American ideas of safety and danger, comfort and discomfort, abundance and want. Biss does so much more eloquently in this essay, which “expos[es] the delusions and hostility of the American fear of ‘bad’ neighborhoods, from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Chicago’s North Side.”

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