Say My Name: Introducing Dr. Tasha Austin
The bees, the look, the voice - if you’ve ever seen Candyman (the 1992 version) it’s left an indelible mark on your consciousness. Tony Todd, who played the film’s namesake shook you to his core and convinced you to stay out of mirrors - perhaps indefinitely! But I have to confess that the remake is the classic for me - and I’m pretty sure the shift is because whereas the original made the calling of Candyman a fearful and likely final mistake, nearly 30 years later it became a means to acknowledge a history and commence a reckoning.
Director Nia DaCosta (per my brilliant artist sister) is a ‘character’ developer. She drew out from the original boogeyman film a ‘why’ and a context that lent purpose to his cinematic bloodlust. Originally, saying Candyman five times in a mirror would cause an evil Black man to come and use his hook hand to murder you. In the 2021 film, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II becomes a part of a legacy that his destiny compels him towards. The fact that he becomes violent is rooted in generational trauma and systemic antiBlackness. The film is still scary, but the final calling of his name is to exact justice even as it is regretful and hard to watch.
I invited my family to log on to my graduation remotely in spite of the in-person option. This choice was the result of, even presently, my tendency to physically tremble at the mere thought of the people who, rather than supporting and grooming me in my scholarship, chose to gatekeep and suppress my ability to thrive in my program. These, my colleagues turned professors, chuckled at my goals and checked out during my development. Academia is unique in that, while you can understand the content taught, you cannot progress without connections and collegial underwriting. In short, it keeps the academy white.
In talking to me over my three years studying, my loved ones couldn’t figure out why I’d lash out at the mention of ‘improving’ myself or ‘making it’ by virtue of attaining the letters ‘PhD’ after my name. They winced at my stories of finding ways around my then advisor in order to produce and share my research (which were her central duties to enact by virtue of her role). When it was time to pomp and circumstance, I resisted and partook in fugitive placemaking by celebrating apart from the site of trauma and rejecting the empty pageantry. Honestly, I asked
my family to sign on and view the graduation for their sake - they deserved to see what kept me so busy for so long.
To ensure graduates names are called in the right order, a protocol of the ceremony involves passing a card with your name on it to a faculty member prior to them calling you up to the stage to be hooded. I realized an hour or so into our collective Zoom viewing, that my name might not be called in my absence, but I didn’t know how it would feel. Then the chat blew up:
They didn’t call you.
Are they serious?
That’s messed up.
The blow was dizzying. Outwardly I was finding ways to make this whole doctoral process work, but my three years of suffering were mine alone. I didn’t want to reveal it and drag the very folks who sacrificed for this, my scholarly effort, to also pay again through the sharing of my pain. But they finally saw it - they saw me - shattered. Still, it was when the ceremony ended, that the magic began. Texts, calls and hugs - my family spoke life to me and called me, Dr. Austin. They, who knew all along who I was and why I moved the way I did, had the honor of acknowledging me fully. Dr. Austin. Not a problematic, scary or unlikely researcher, no. Dr. Austin. Not a product of the churn of neoliberal capitalist institutions, but the truth-telling, self-assured critical educator, Dr. Austin. Not “you should aim for a teaching position,” nor “how about a postdoc?”, but Dr. Austin.
They held a mirror up to me and said my name. In doing so they called me to life, amidst an awkward omission. They compelled me to see myself and to do my work - our work. One that generations of cotton-picking and school pushout failed to uproot. They called my name and I materialized to their delight and to the chagrin of those who omitted me. I am here. I am still here.
And Dr. Austin is here to slay.