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The Ballot or the Bullet

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The Ballot or the Bullet

“The Ballot or the Bullet”, the name itself does not leave something to the imagination. It catches our attention and makes us react without even uttering another word. Malcolm X knew this well and that’s what made him such a charismatic figure in the civil rights movement of the sixties. Malcolm X delivered this speech at the height of the civil rights movement, just one month prior Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was delivered. X was trying to go after a different group of people within the same group (African-Americans), he knew that many people didn’t embrace the peaceful nature of Dr. King’s rallies and knew he could capitalize on the moment. Congress had done very little to further the civil rights movement with any piece of legislation, and the African-American population was growing frustrated. That frustration fueled Malcolm X to deliver “The Ballot or the Bullet”, invoking a sense of emergency amongst African-Americans to act now. 1964 was an election year and Malcolm X used this to further fuel his movement, “when all the political crooks will be right in the community, with all their false promises which they don’t intend to keep (X, 1964). Malcolm X made it very clear that he was not asking the black man to throw caution to the wind with statements such as “I’m not anti-Democrat, I’m not anti-Republican, and I’m not anti-anything. I’m just questioning their (white politicians) sincerity and some of the strategy that they’ve been using on our people by promising them promises that they don’t intend to keep (X, 1964)”. So while he wasn’t “anti-anything”, establishing a logos argument with his audience, he also said such things as, “He may be friendly, but he’s not your friend (X, 1964)”, which helped fuel the anger in the room creating pathos within the crowd. He seemed to go back and forth about what the white man represents, it was effective, for it helped ignite the crowd, then pull it back with logic (Zakria). President Johnson was on the ballot, he openly supported the civil rights bill, but Malcolm X attacked Johnson and the Democratic Party. He criticized them for their lack of action (Malcolm X:A Research Site). Malcolm X urged the African-American community to rise to action against the Democrats political con game, “It was the black man’s vote that put the current administration in Washington D.C., your vote, your dumb vote, your ignorant vote, your wasted vote put in an administration that has seen fit to pass every kind of legislation imaginable, saving you until last (X, 1964)”. What he’s trying to tell the audience is they have the power to put an administration in Washington D.C. There was enough black people that if they came together as one they would and could hold the determining vote to who gets in the White House. He tries to bring together all African-Americans, “I’m not here to argue or discuss anything that we differ about, because it’s time for us to submerge our differences and realize that it is best for us to first see that we have the same problem, a common problem, a problem that will make you catch hell, whether you’re a Baptist, or a Methodist, or a Muslim. Whether you’re educated or illiterate, whether you live on the boulevard or the alley, you’re going to catch hell just like I am. We’re all in the same boat and we all are going to catch the same hell from the same man. He just happens to be a white man (X, 1964)”. By making this statement he breaks down all the walls that make everyone different and makes them the same, so he can capture them as a group rather than an individual. “If we have differences, let us differ in the closet; when we come out in front, let us have nothing to argue about until we get finished arguing with the man (white man) (X, 1964)”. He constantly tries to let everyone know they are strong in a group, weak as an individual but in a group they are strong. “I don’t usually deal with big people. I deal with small people. I find you can get a whole lot of small people and whip the hell out of a whole lot of big people. They haven’t got anything to lose (X, 1964)”, and “We’re all poor as individuals. Our weekly salary individually amounts to hardly anything. But if you take the salary of everyone in here collectively, it’ll fill up a whole lot of baskets (X, 1964)”. Now that he has the crowd feeling like just that “a crowd” he explains what they should do. He explains that everything that the African-American should do is legal and what the man is doing is illegal. “Whenever you’re going after something that belongs to you, anyone who’s depriving you of the right to have it is a criminal (X, 1964)”. He has backed up his claim so that people will not be afraid to act on the wrongs that have been placed on them by the government. He at the same time is trying to evoke some fury out of the so called man, “Anytime you demonstrate against segregation and a man has the audacity to put a police dog on you, kill that dog, kill him, I’m telling you, kill that dog (X, 1964)”. He knows that by invoking some rage will gain him the exposure he’s after, “bad press is good press”. Malcolm X also wants the African-Americans to know they can defeat the white man, that he’s not as powerful as they see him, “So the only place where action can take place is on the ground. And the white man can’t win another war fighting on the ground. Those days are over the black man knows it, the brown man knows it, the red man knows it, and the yellow man knows it. So they engage him in guerrilla warfare. That’s not his style. You’ve got to have heart to be a guerrilla warrior, and he hasn’t got any heart (X, 1964)”. X delivers on his message by stating many areas where guerrilla warfare has won, just to make sure his point is hitting home. He does emphasize that the ballot is much stronger than the bullet, “look at the UN, there are poor nations in the UN, yet those poor nations can get together with their voting power and keep the rich nations from making a move. So the ballot is most important (X, 1964)”. But he wants them to understand at the same time that if the ballot does not give them the results they are looking for that the bullet should be used, “A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t cast your ballots until you see a target, and if the target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket (X, 1964)”. He stays on the track of trying to get everyone to come together for a similar goal, “Anywhere there’s a church that is also preaching and practicing the gospel of Black Nationalism, joins that church. If the NAACP is preaching and practicing the gospel of Black Nationalism, join the NAACP. If CORE is spreading and practicing the gospel of Black Nationalism, join CORE. Join any organization that has a gospel that’s for the uplift of the black man (X, 1964)”. X’s stance is getting all the African-Americans together so that by August of that year they can come together and decide if they need to form a Black Nationalist Party or a Black Nationalist Army, “it will be the ballot or the bullet, it will be liberty or it’ll be death (X, 1964)”. He paints the white man as the devil over and over, making sure that they understand who the enemy is, “It’s time for you and me to stop sitting in this country, letting some cracker senators, Northern crackers and Southern crackers, sit there in Washington D.C., and come to a conclusion in their mind that you and I are supposed to have civil rights (X, 1964)”. Malcolm’s goal is to get everyone on the same page fighting the same people and by proposing either by doing it through the election process or if need be through taking up arms and defending what is rightfully theirs, civil liberties. Malcolm X’s repetition of the phrase “the ballot or the bullet” was effective in drilling the purpose of his speech into the minds of his audience. His rhetoric was extreme, for the options left no room for compromise. Rhetoric functions throughout the speech to ignite the audience, without actually inciting violence at the words. This speech was largely a pathos appeal: a wake-up call to the African American community to recognize that the injustices against them had a source, and for that reason, they had to doubt the intentions of anyone that was not African-American (Zakria).

References
The Ballot or the Bullet. (2011, March 2). Retrieved November 2, 2012, from Socyberty |Society on the Web: http://socyberty.com/history/critical-anaylsis-the-ballot-or-the-bullet/
Malcolm X: A Research Site. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2012, from Malcolm X: A Research Site: http://www.brothermalcolm.net/studyguide/bb.htm/
X, M. (1964, April 3). The Ballot or the Bullet. (M. X, Performer) Cory Methodist Church, Cleveland, Ohio, United States.
Zakria, S. (n.d.). Suzanne Zakria's E Portfolio. Retrieved November 2, 2012, from Weebly.com: http://www.suzannezakria.weebly.com/sample-work.html

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