New Essay by Dawn Lundy Martin at n+1
Miss, the verb, has several definitions. To fail to hit, reach, or contact. To pass by without touching. To be too late to catch. To fail to attend, participate in, or watch as one is expected to or habitually does. To fail to see. To be unable to experience. To omit. When the word emerged in the late 12th century its association was with regret, occasioned by loss or absence. But the adjectival version of miss, as in missing, was not recorded in English until the 16th century, and by 1845 became a way to describe military personnel not known to be present after battle. Whether missing soldiers were killed or captured is inaccessible data. In some parts of the world, we have transformed this state of indeterminacy into disappeared. Let me use this modified part of speech in an American sentence: “If recent trends continue, one in three black men in the United States will be disappeared into jail or prison in his lifetime.” It strikes me that to miss or be missing, in my brother’s case, requires a part-of-speech modification, too—one that could perhaps help me, at least, understand his particular condition, meaning the Condition of Bruce as it intersects with the subjugated identities we know are related, race and gender. To be missing, as a noun, would be the designation itself, like a black, the racial category without the noun person. A failed sight. A passed by without touching. A failed inclusion. An unattended. A missing.
Thoreau argues that the “mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” It’s an easy case to make when you can count on the centrality of your own unquestioned I. My brother, who is now 55, in jail for the first time, is not singular in his missingness. Many of my first cousins have been incarcerated at some point in their lives, some serving long sentences for drug-related charges, others for more serious crimes. I, myself, once went missing for 24 hours—years ago, returning from the Washington, DC, party for my first book, swept up by the airport police for having (I didn’t know) the tiniest bit of marijuana in my carry-on bag. My girlfriend at the time awaited me at Bradley airport, but of course I never emerged from the gate. One cousin, Dwayne, died from a heart attack after having chest pains for several days. He didn’t have health insurance and was leery of going to the emergency room and racking up a bunch of unpayable bills, as he had once before. He might be called an untouched. In 2014, the Black and Missing Foundation reported that 64,000 black girls and women were missing in the United States. Passed by without noticing.
Please read the full piece at n+1.