Analysis Of Malcolm X's "Ballot Or Bullet" Speech
Malcolm X Warns, "It Shall Be The Ballot or The Bullet"
The 1960s were a time of battle for change. Frustrated and fed up with the oppression with which they were forced to live, influential people such as Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Martin Luther King, Jr. started a whirlwind known as the Civil Rights Movement. On Easter Sunday, March 29, 1964, Malcolm X gave a speech warning of "the ballot or the bullet" (3) from the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights, New York. Extending his position to black people living in America, Malcolm X used repetition of words, epistrophe, anaphora, and antithesis to convey his message in a forceful and fascinating way.
Malcolm X spoke to black nationalists as a plea for action against their white oppressors. He made the point that African-Americans were treated as second class citizens: they were denied the constitutional rights that they deserved. Malcolm X also spoke about the "back pay" (2) that white Americans owed them for the slave labor they forced upon the ancestors of the African-Americans. Malcolm X made a call for freedom.
Malcolm X's diction added emphasis to his speech. He used repetition of words frequently throughout his speech. Near the beginning of his speech, Malcolm X said:
The first step for those of us who believe in the philosophy of Black Nationalism is to realize that the problem begins right here. The first problem is right here. We have to elevate our thinking right here first--not just the thinking of a handful, that won't do it. But the thinking of 22 million black people in this country must be elevated. (1)
This statement used repetition of the words "first" and "thinking." It also utilized epistrophe with the phrase "right here." The whole quote can be summed up using the words Malcolm X repeated. His main idea was that African-Americans first had to change their thinking right here. Malcolm X used repetition of words and phrases to highlight the idea expressed in the quote.
Two paragraphs later, Malcolm X repeated the word "gospel" throughout an entire paragraph.
When you have a philosophy or a gospel--I don't care whether it's a religious gospel, a political gospel, an economic gospel or a social gospel--if it's not going to do something for you and me right here and right now--to hell with that gospel! In the past, most of the religious gospels that you and I have heard have benefited only those who preach it. Most of the political gospels that you and I have heard have benefited only the politicians. The social gospels have benefited only the sociologists. (1)
Malcolm X was trying to convey the idea that if the gospel doesn't work, do not accept it-create your own. The African-American people cannot just accept the fact that...
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Rhetorical Analysis of Malcolm X's Speech, The Ballot Or The Bullet
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Malcolm X: His very name is a stab to the beliefs of the white supremacists of his time"X" symbolizing "the rejection of slave-names' and the absence of an inherited African name to take its place." Similarly, in his speech "The Ballot or the Bullet", Malcolm X denounces the actions of the white population, without any attempts to appeal to them; his approach to the civil rights issue is in complete opposition to the tactics of other civil rights leaders of his time, such as Martin Luther King, Jr. Rather than trying to integrate the black community into the white, he focuses on the complete separation of them: he doesn't want the blacks to integrate into the white hotels, he wants blacks to own the hotels. He believed that the black population had to break the psychological, cultural, economic, and political dependency on their oppressors. By using tactical phrasing of his sentences that connects to his audience emotionally, Malcolm X attacks the tendency of African-Americans to identify with White America, and insists they identify instead with Africans, their ancestors; thus, he promotes his purpose: to instill a feeling of self-respect and self-help in his fellow African-Americans, which in turn is the stepping stone to the liberation of the Black people.
Malcolm X begins breaking down the bridge between Black and White America at the beginning of the speech, phrasing his sentences in such a way as to convince his audience of the fact that your place of residence does not determine who you are, and therefore blacks shouldn't identify with White America. Though blacks are considered "citizens" of the United States, Malcolm X asserts "Everything that came out of Europe, every blue-eyed thing, is already an American. As long as you and I have been over here, we aren't Americans yet." Malcolm X continuously refers back to the concept for the rest of his speech, stating that blacks are not Americans; rather, they are "just" Africans. He begins the sentence with "Everything that came out of Europe," creating the impression that absolutely everybody from Europe was accepted into American society, including low class criminals and other people of such low moral character, while all blacks, even highly educated individuals such as MLK, Jr. are still looked down upon in societythis statement fuels the already passionate and strong hatred of his black audience.
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Ballot Malcolm X Bullet Stepping Stone Black Community Sentences Hotels African-americans Black People
Instead of referring to the white population as "white", he uses the phrase "blue-eyed thing." In doing so, he reinforces that fact that the United States has built its entire country on something as trivial as eye and skin color, which instills a feeling of pride his audience, because they, have the moral fiber to look past such irrelevancies; this statement begins to create a feeling of separation from the white population which the blacks had previously been trying to integrate into. Put together, the phrase paints a vivid image: his audience can just imagine masses of people with blond hair and blue eyes arriving in ships, flooding the streets that had been previously occupied by blacks.
He continues on to make his point stronger, to appeal to his audience's emotions in a more direct manner. Malcolm goes on to say, "Sitting at the table doesn't make you a diner, unless you eat some of what's on that plate. Being here in America doesn't make you an American No, I'm not an American. I'm one of the 22 million black people who are victims of Americanism." This statement reinforces his previous assertion, and directly states that blacks are not Americansit drills this fact into his audience's brains early on in the speech, so that it will ring in their ears later on, as he presents more evidence for his beliefs. By referring to the racial equality issue as "Americanism," and himself as a "victim," Malcolm creates this picture that the white population is this deadly, widespread disease, unable to control it's own growth; it has already victimized tens of millions of blacks across the country, without a cure to stop ituntil now. He shows his audience how to finally battle and defeat this disease: by finally opening up their eyes and realizing that they are just as good as the white population, just as smart, just as capable, and just as significantin reality, all he has done is manipulate his audience's emotions so that they begin feeling more self-confident and pride.
To close up the speech, Malcolm X attacks the true issue that the civil rights movement is fighting for, instilling yet stronger emotions by relating his argument to his audience's daily lives. Instead of approaching the issue like other civil rights leaders, he promotes the separation of the black and white populations. That issue is segregation. Malcolm argues, "A segregated district or community is a community in which people live, but outsiders control the politics and the economy of that community They'll always give you the lowest or worst that there is to offer, but it doesn't mean you're segregated just because you have your own. You've got to control your own. Just like the white man has control of his, you need to control yours." Malcolm takes a fresh view on the issue of segregation by redefining the word itself. By introducing a new take on an old issue, he starts a new fire in his audience's hearts and emotions. No longer does it merely mean that for something to be segregated, it must be all black; it means that a given area is not under it's own control. In this sense, segregation becomes a whole new problem, with a whole new solutionwhich Malcolm X has the answer to. Instead of fighting to integrate the two races, this statement fights for the separation of the two. He convinces his audience of this with the phrase "they'll always give you the lowest or worst " by showing them that there is no other way outhis solution is the only way that the black population will achieve equality.
Through his use of such radical ideas and solutions to the civil rights problems of his day, Malcolm X captivates his black audience. Malcolm X completely shatters his listeners' beliefs, using a roundabout form of rhetoric: he uses harsh language that seems to degrade his audience, while, at the same time, he increases their self-confidence subconsciously through their emotions. In successfully convincing his audience that identifying with the white population is not conducive to the eventual liberation of the black people, he is able to say to his fellow African-Americans, "It's the ballot or the bullet."