I was reminded of this while reading an article about the value of suburbanites actively helping communities in Detroit:
Through most of college, I thought working in international development would be the best way for me to make the world a more just place -- until someone asked me a difficult question: "Why are you so focused on international issues? You live a half an hour away from one of the poorest, most disenfranchised cities in America. Why aren't you working there?"
The question troubled me. When I answered it honestly, the answer was fear. It was a fear that, when traced to its roots, was born out of years of tension between the city and the suburbs -- the effects of poverty, racism, inequality and injustice.
Strange how half an hour away can be such a greater distance than half a world away. For whatever reason, troubles in a nearby inner city aren't as romantic as destitution in another country. For you social theorists out there, I see an entrenched post-colonial geography at work.
As for the fear, this is the geography of Deliverance. Mythology fills up the space of the lesser know parts of our intimate world. Dehumanizing stories about asocial behavior literally scare you from going to a place where you can't trust anyone. Folk tales are an effective way to transmit knowledge across generations and help you identify other people you can trust. If someone shares your heritage tale, then you she or he will help you.
Communities can only cover so much territory. So, the demonization of inner-city Detroit probably doesn't extend to every other country in the world. There is some anxiety about traveling abroad, but the fear is vague enough to facilitate the adventure. Thus, suburban Detroit often is more connected to regions thousands of miles away than the neighborhoods ringing downtown.