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Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet
Transcript of Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet
By: Ellis, Connor, Annie, and Mia
Literary Devices are tools of speech to help get one’s point across. Throughout the speech, Mr. X uses various kinds of figurative language and other literary devices. One thing commonly used throughout the speech is a form of alliteration by repeating words or sounds in order to make a point more apparent. One place where he uses this is when he says that the black community is “anti-exploitation…anti-degradation…[and] anti-oppression”. Even the name of the speech is an alliteration, Ballot or the Bullet. On top of this uses metaphors and hyperbole throughout the speech, at one point describing the end result of current Democratic behavior as “an explosion” or describing the current immigration system as “every blue-eyed thing is already an American”. Probably the biggest literary device used in the speech is the name. Ballot or Bullet. The “bullet” he is alluding to is the possible violence that will come out of a lack of freedom.
Tone & Diction
Tone and diction are the ways that the speaker uses his words. Tone and diction are often used to get points across without explicitly presenting arguments, making the piece more tactful.
Throughout “The Ballot or the Bullet”, Malcolm X seems to have a generally angry and critical tone all the way through. His outraged outlook has good reason for such a negative tone, however, since the very purpose of the speech is to expose the injustices caused by “the white man” and criticism of the political “con games” of the Dixiecrats. Because of his belief that violence could be a crucial tactic in the civil rights movement, the speech acts as a threat. He says, “it's time now for you and me to become more politically mature and realize what the ballot is for, what we're supposed to get when we cast a ballot; and if we don't cast a ballot, it's going to end up in a situation where we're going to have to cast a bullet", implying that African-Americans need to become educated and more politically aware, and informs them how their vote can give them power if they use it. “Casting a bullet” would be the last resort.
A central purpose of this speech was to encourage blacks to take the step forward and initiate change. The views he expressed in this speech, however controversial, were successful in encouraging African-Americans to further their education, political awareness, and to take advantage of the suffrage.
Malcolm X’s Diction is very interesting throughout the speech. Malcolm walks the line of formal and informal perfectly. His vocabulary is perfect to the point where it’s obviously educated, but not complicated to the point where those under-educated wouldn’t be able to understand. His prose is the exact same way, formal, yet comfortable conversational. He does this to prove to scholars he’s capable, and to connect with the common man as well.
Shifts in Tone
Overall, the speech is a pretty angry and critical one, but with the exception of a few subtle changes of mood, in which it calms down during moments of clarification or explanation of an unjust concept he has just finished bashing. Malcolm X’s “clarification” of certain things could just as easily be interpreted as contridication, for example when he articulates the opression at “the hands of the white man”, and then goes on to clarify “it doesn’t mean that [we’re] anti-white”, he is simply questioning the morality of it all.
Though Malcolm was not known for his use of logos in his speeches, it is used a few times. The two most prominent time are when he uses statistics to show the size of the problem at hand, like when he mentions fighting “800 million Chinese” or brings up the “22 million black people who are victims of Americanism” or even “they have in the House of Representatives 257 Democrats to only 177 Republicans”.
The pathetic appeal in Malcolm X’s speech is unquestionably one of his greatest strengths. He appeals to the emotions of his young audience, rousing them to anger; and, at the same time, strikes fear into the hearts of his white listeners. Malcolm uses several methods to rouse his black audience to anger. He uses repetition as one of his main tools in eliciting powerful emotions in his audience. Throughout the speech, Malcolm X emphasizes specific words to make the audience feel that the government has failed them and made fools of them. For instance, in his first argument about white men taking over black neighborhoods, Malcolm X repeats the word “control” six times in order to effectively remind his audience that they are being dominated by white men. This repetition causes the audience to become enraged and trapped because they can’t escape the word “control”, as well as the control of the white man. Similarly, Malcolm repeats the words “I am not . . .” The audience echoes these words to themselves. The repetition becomes the catch phrase of every black man, woman and child in the room and they are able to identify with Malcolm’s claims. He then re-emphasizes, using the word “you” and repeating it continuously. He enables every being in the room, every “you” listening to his speech, to identify with his claim that “I am not an American,” but a victim of “Americanism.” No one is able to escape the idea, not even the white men who are listening, that they are hated and despised right along with him. Every time he repeats the staccato “I am not,” Malcolm hammers home his point, slamming the idea of an uprising into the minds of his listeners. When he concludes with the words, “I see no American dream; I see only an American nightmare,” everyone in the room recognizes the allusion to Martin’s speech of a month before, to which “The Ballot or the Bullet” is directly in response to. Black Americans recognize that the time for pacifism is past and that their only choice is revolution. Malcolm appeals on two levels at once. What he says arouses the emotions, but does so precisely because what he says is absolutely logical: “You cannot call yourself a diner (an American) when your plate is empty (denied basic civil rights).” In addition, Malcolm X repeats the word “failure” continuously when discussing the government. He states that the government, "is responsible for the oppression and exploitation and degradation of Black people in this country” and that the government “has failed the Negro". When he speaks of various failures that black people commonly associate with the South, Malcolm X uses the word “government” repeatedly to convince his audience that it is the entire government, and not solely the South, that has let them all down. This repetition encourages those listening to take action against the inadequate government by eliciting feelings of betrayal as he invokes the ideal that it is the government’s responsibility to be strong and protect its people.
Clearly the ethos of this speech is the author/speaker: Malcolm X himself, a unique reformer during the Civil Rights Movement. Unlike Martin Luther King, his approach to gaining rights supported the idea that violence might be a necessary action to take in order to achieve the legitimate right to vote. He goes on to criticize the current state of the civil rights movement by expressing his view that the “struggle needs a new interpretation, a broader interpretation. We need to look at the civil-rights thing from another angle-from the inside..." Malcolm X was an example of one of the reformers during this time that wanted progress to hurry up by whatever means would be the quickest and strongest.
Another aspect of Malcolm X’s ethos would be his status as a member as the Nation of Islam (he resigned from the group the same year he gave the speech “The Ballot or the Bullet”, but at the time he delivered it he was still a member). In the speech, however, Malcolm makes it clear that he “isn’t here to discuss [his] religion” because it is irrelevant in the matter at hand, which is an issue that affects all people.
He also makes it clear that where he stands in politics is ambiguous and irrelevant as well, in fact he “[doesn’t] even consider himself an American” because as an African-American he isn’t treated like one.
During the speech, Malcolm X clearly emphasizes himself as one of them, stating that he too is “one of the 22 million black people who are victims of Americanism” and the corrupt democracy.
The Ballot or the Bullet
• April 3, 1964
• Methodist Church Cleveland Ohio
• A call for action “time is running out—time has run out”
• Want everyone to unite and fight and oppression
• In 1964 we either use the ballot or the bullet
Going to School/Growing Up
• Good student; one of the smartest kids in Jr. High
• Favorite teacher crushed his dreams; told him that there was “no realistic goal for a ni…er”
• Dropped out of school
• Went to Boston; work at odd jobs
• Went to Harlem New, New York
• Arrested sent to prison 10 years (for burglary) released after 7 years though
After Prison Years
• Became a Muslim joined Nation of Islam (the NOI)
• Started studying
• New name Malcolm X to signify his lost tribal name
• Became a minister and national spokesman for Islam
• Malcolm X: (originally named Malcolm Little)
• Born on May 19th 1925 in Omaha Nebraska.
• Mother: Louise Norton Little; homestead maker
• Father: Earl Little; a Baptist minister, civil right strikes;
• Received death threats house burnt down
• Relocate before Malcolm’s 4th Birthday 1929
• 1931: Earl found dead (found body on town’s trolley tracks
• Louise: Suffered from emotional breakdown; sent to a mental institution
• Malcolm: sent to orphanages along with siblings; separated from them
A Few Years Before the Speech
• 1963, discovers that his mentor was having an affair with 6 women; meant to be celibate with marriage
• Destroyed Malcolm X’s faith
• November 1963 JF Kennedy assassinated
• 1964: Malcolm decided to go to Mecca, Saudi Arabia; shared thoughts with people
• March 1964: Malcolm decides to leave the MOI; become Muslim
• Johnson becomes President
• Blacks voted for Democrats who promised to deliver civil rights but did not
Problems that Malcolm saw
Issues that Malcolm Needed to Show
• Waking up “their eyes are coming open”
• Voting is power-blacks vote as a block-determine president
• “Segregation is against the law”
• Young people coming up are angry more racial hatred
• “ballot or bullet .. It’ll be liberty or it will be death”
• politicians promised blacks civil rights-they lied
• Illegal and unconstitutional to prevent Blacks voting
• In the North voting areas changed so the Black vote lower
• In the South refused to let them vote
• The Blacks are still not Americans
*“One nation—one vote. Everyone has an equal vote”
• “We want freedom now. We’ve got to fight until we overcome”
• Blacks need to spend their money in their communities
• Support one another, to band together
• Get rid of the evils like drugs in their communities.
• Blacks need to join churches together
• Form a Black Nationalist party
• Make America the “country of freedom.”
• There is no time to wait for an election
• The time for change is now in 1964
Solutions to Problems
• “We need new friends, we need new allies”
• United Nations has a charter on human rights.
• Support from African and Latin American nations
• Take Uncle Sam to the world court on Human Rights
• Change it to Human rights not civil rights.
• “Human rights are your God given rights”
• The ballot is freedom
May 19, 1925 – February 21, 1965