A young sister ‘hashtagged’ me out of my silo

Julianne Malveaux | 4/21/2015, 8:49 a.m.
When a colleague dropped the line, “You can’t hashtag your way to freedom,” I loved it! I laughed out loud, ...
Angry Nigerians took to social media using hashtag #BringBackOurGirls and #BringBackOurDaughters to demand more from the government in the search for 230 girls abducted in Nigeria last week Ify Elueze/iReport

When a colleague dropped the line, “You can’t hashtag your way to freedom,” I loved it! I laughed out loud, and promised that I’d not borrow the line, but steal it because I was so enamored of it. I’ve used it quite a few times since then, and gotten my share of grins and guffaws. So I used it again and again, always getting the same reaction.



Julianne Malveaux

Imagine my surprise, then, when Frenchie Davis, 35, the Howard University alumna who burst onto the music scene with her 2003 turn on “American Idol,” took me to school by telling me she thought my remark was “condescending.” I didn’t mean to be condescending, just to make the point that there is a difference between tweeting and fighting for change. Hashtags are not votes. Even if a million people hashtagged #bringbackourgirls, the hundreds of Nigerian young women abducted by Boko Haram are still missing.

Frenchie Davis thought my glib remark dismissed a form of communication that young people find effective, a form of communication that raises their awareness. She is right to point out that electronic and social media is far more consequential today than it was just a decade ago, and that her generation relies on social media more heavily than it does traditional media. While many people of my Baby Boomer generation use electronic media, we are not as immersed in it as younger folks are.

Reality check. The median age of the African American recorded in the 2000 Census was 30.4, compared to the national mean of 34.4. As of 2013, the mean age of U.S. born Blacks was 29, compared to a national mean of 37. That means the average African American is closer in age to Frenchie Davis than to to me.

Members of that generation – too often disdained by their elders for their work ethic, commitment to civil rights, or style of dress – are the ones who will propel the Civil Rights Movement into the future. So Sister Frenchie was right to call me on my snarly/funny remark about hashtagging to freedom. If the hashtag takes you to a conversation, and that takes you to action, then the hashtag may be a step in the right direction.

My conversation with Frenchie Davis took place when I moderated a panel on “Race, Justice, and Change,” as part of the Washington, D.C. Emancipation Day commemoration. By way of background, the Compensated Emancipation Act of 1862 paid the owners of 3,100 slaves $300 each to emancipate them; for the past decade D.C. commemorates this day with an official holiday.

The other panelists, Malik Yoba, Doug E. Fresh, and Mali Music, are, like Davis, socially and politically active artists, who are also concerned with ways to increase involvement in civil rights matters. Mali Music, 27, was the youngest member of the panel. His comments about young Black male alienation offered an important perspective in a conversation structured to address voting, policing, and organizing. I’d not heard of the Grammy Award nominee before, which perhaps reveals the generational silo I occupy.