Malcolm X delivered one of the most powerful speeches in American civil rights history in April 1964. The Ballot and The Bullet declaration concentrated on Black Nationalism at a time when the African American community had no influence about who they elected. During the electioneering time, white nationalists will usually emerge in black communities and compel the blacks to vote for them. Malcolm X’s mission was to grant the black community the right to vote for themselves.
The urgency of Malcolm X’s speech represents the black community’s deep desire to achieve nationalism. X believes that the solution to all the discrimination and racism they blacks face is “here and now.” Here and now is the exigency in his speech. He wants all the African Americans to put aside their religious beliefs and strive in unison to achieve the same goal. The requirement here aims to compel the African Americans to unite on account of fear of what might eventually happen to them.
The audience on the Ballot or the Bullet is primarily the black community. Malcolm X tries to inspire and influence the blacks from the beginning of his speech. He also includes himself in the audience by using phrases like” ourselves” and “our people.” For instance, he begins by asserting “one of the reasons that it is bad for us to continue to just refer to ourselves as the so-called Negroes that is negative.” Malcolm X wants the black community to have total separation from the white supremacists. He, wants them to vote their leaders, and develop their economy and social status.
Malcolm X directs the general purpose of the speech is to the black community as they are primary audience. However, X does not shy away from also addressing the white race as his secondary audience. Malcolm X intended his speech to be an eye-opener to the African American on their rights to vote their leaders. He points out to whites like Johnson who pretend to support them and label him a Dixiecrat. He asserts that “they will lynch you in Texas just as they will lynch you in Mississippi.” The other purpose of Malcolm X’s speech is to warn the whites who are his secondary audience. He says” I hope the white man can see this. Cause if you don’t see it, you are finished. If you don’t see it, you are going to become involved in some action which you don’t have a chance.”
A clear depiction of constraint in the speech is when Malcolm X poses “when you and I have a philosophy or a gospel – I don’t care whether it is religious gospel, and economic gospel or a social gospel. If it is not going to do something for you and me right here and right now – to hell with that gospel.” Malcolm X further asserts that the political gospels that they have heard only benefited the politician and the social gospels which they heard also benefited only the sociologists. Here Malcolm X artistically uses “the gospel” to infer the power to stop decision and action required to alter the distress.
Malcolm X tactfully uses the concepts of ethos, pathos, and logos during his speech delivery of The Ballot or The Bullet. Ethos is the skill of employing ethical appeal or audiences’ prior reputation or credibility to convince them. For instance, Malcolm X begins by addressing the issue concerning his religion. We learn that previously Malcolm X was a member of the Nation of Islam which disagreed with matters to deal with the civil rights consequently he left the organization to champion the civil rights. Malcolm acknowledges that he is a Muslim, but he wants to talk about the common factor among them all that is Black Nationalism. X successfully convinced his crowd that he is neither a radical nor a black supremacist by addressing his religious issues. X also succeeded to convince his audience that he is a reasonable man since he can put aside all the other differences to solve the common problems of black supremacy. He employs logos to strengthen his credibility and to assist him to deliver a compelling speech.
Malcolm X also uses pathos to appeal to his audience. Pathos refers to employing emotional tactics to convince an audience. In his speech, Malcolm X uses pathos in a significant number of times. He describes how the government is lying to its African American citizens. Malcolm asserts that the Democrats blamed all the black misfortunes on the southerners for all the issues to deal with the civil rights but in actual sense, they too were to blame. He refers to them as Dixiecrats are “… democrats in disguise.” By employing pathos, X achieves to solicit anger from the audience towards the government and the white race for lying to them. Furthermore, it also plants passion and desire in audiences’ hearts to fight for change in the political system. X also incites the African American community to fight for their nationalism he says “… it’s the ballot or the bullet. It’s liberty or its death. It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.”
Malcolm X employed two styles of the organization to his speech, problem-solution, and comparison (Keith and Lundberg). However, the dominant one is sequential organization. First, X starts by defining the purpose of his speech which is Black Nationalism. He then expounds in the subsequent pages what nationalism meant politically, economically and socially to the blacks. He follows by demonstrating how they are going to achieve nationalism through a revolution and ends his speech by calling on the African American community to unite for a common goal. In between his speech X throws in some comparison between America and other continents such as Asia and Africa in their struggle for independence. He also compares their treatment by the government and the treatment accorded to white people.
Malcolm X’s speech falls in the grand style of rhetoric (Cuddon). X through his address can evoke emotions, uses personification and has figurative language. For instance, he commonly uses alliteration in his remarks to emphasize a point. He says “…it’s the ballot or the bullet. It’s liberty, or it’s death. It’s freedom for everybody or freedom for nobody.” X also uses hyperbole and metaphors to describe situations, for example; he describes the immigration at that time as “every blue-eyed thing is already an American.” The title of the speech is also a literary style as the “bullet” alludes to the possible eruption of violence should the whites deny the African Americans their right to elect their leaders. Also, the grand style of writing is usually employed in long speeches such as Xs.
Malcolm X carefully jumps from the formal to informal speech tactfully in his speech delivery. He has an educated vocabulary with well-organized thoughts, but his diction is not so complicated such that even the illiterate audience can also understand. Overall Malcolm’s speech adopts an angry and critical tone dotted by few but subtle humor where he becomes calm when making a clarification or explaining the injustice that he had just criticized.
The speaker at the end of his speech attained in delivering his intended purpose of uniting the African American community to fight for Black Nationalism. Malcolm X was very tactful in his employment of the elements of speech. The first started by establishing that he is a logical person by appealing through the smart employment of ethos and logos. Once Malcolm had won the credibility from his audience, he then appealed to their pathos to plant passion and desire to fight for their rights. Just like Martin Luther King, Malcolm X demonstrated that he is also a skilled orator through his The Ballot or The Bullet speech.
Cuddon, J A. A Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory. Wiley, 2012.
Keith, William and Christian O Lundberg. Public Speaking: Choices and Responsibility. Boston: Cengage Learning, 2017.
Morgan and Natt. “Speech Organization Patterns.” 2013. Purdue University Website. 13 December 2017.