In his essay, "Black Studies and the Racial Mountain", Manning Marable posits that the black intellectual tradition has always been descriptive, corrective, and prescriptive. Marable was arguing that black intellectuals have always centered blackness and have “presented the reality of black life” from that locus of understanding, that black intellectuals have critiqued and attempted to dismantle white supremacy, and that black intellectuals have always put forward feasible measures for the “empowerment of black people .” Indeed, the black intellectual tradition has characterized our understanding of what constitutes a black activism and protest—a framework that can be traced back through a genealogical tradition of black scholar activists such as W.E.B DuBois and black activists like Ida B Wells, whose work was grounded in an intellectual, if not scholarly tradition.
Enter Twitter and hashtag activism: Twitter is an online social networking site that allows users to create posts of up to 140 characters and to participate in realtime conversation through the use of the hashtag (#). Much cultural conversation and black activism have occurred through the hashtag—most notably #BlackLivesMatter, a hashtag and black social movement started by black queer activists Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors and Opal Tometti .
Yet traditional understandings of black activism (understandings that stem from the black intellectual tradition), and activism in general, have been used to delegitimize the efficacy of hashtag activism and thus the effectiveness of movements that have generated from hashtag activism (Black Lives Matter), by people who position it in juxtaposition to the liberatory practices utilized during the civil rights and black liberation movements of the sixties and early seventies. Critics have derided it as being “armchair activism” and others have questioned its practicality. The question has been asked: How practical is hashtag activism if it cannot move beyond the descriptive? Morehouse College professor and black public intellectual Marc Lamont Hill argues that:
Digital media can definitely be a site of resistance, education, and mobilization. BET’s
@whatsatstake is a great example #NewsHourChats. (Marc Lamont Hill, Twitter Post,
March 17, 2015)
But we cannot confuse symbolic forms of resistance with engaged on-the-ground
activism, policy change & collective struggle. #NewsHourChats. (Marc Lamont Hill,
Twitter Post, March 17, 2015)
Hill’s argument is valid, on the ground activism and protest is vital to the longevity and effectiveness of any social movement. Yet we cannot easily dismiss the importance of hashtag activism as a space for activism and collective struggle, especially for those individuals who do not have the ability to engage in sustained on the ground activism and protest—be that due to physical or mental disability. It is important to recognize that disability plays an important role in many people’s ability to conceptualize or participate in activist work . Ableism should be recognized as a vital construct in our understanding of black activism and social movements.
A fully intersectional black social movement recognizes that the terms of access and ability are not the same for all people. Hashtag activism can thus be recognized as a way for the disabled to be a part of that collective struggle through the mode of the descriptive, through consciousness building. Since the formation of the Combahee River Collective in 1974, black feminist scholars have long theorized about the importance and effectiveness of consciousness raising . And the question could be asked: Have we actually moved beyond the descriptive in the struggle for black liberation?
 Garza, Alicia. "A herstory of the# blacklivesmatter movement." (2014).
Rowan. "In Respect to Ableism in Activism." The More Time I Spend Alive the More I Hate People (blog), May 2016.
 Gunn, Caitlin. "Hashtagging from the Margins." Women of Color and Social Media Multitasking: Blogs, Timelines, Feeds, and Community (2015): 21.