Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet

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On April 3rd, 1964 Malcolm X, a household name during the civil rights movement, delivered his speech in Cleveland, Ohio in order to discuss one important issue: the American values of democracy and freedom are not inclusive to African-American citizens. In his speech, Malcolm wanted to persuade fellow African-Americans to become more engaged politically and be more vocal. In the speech “The Ballot or the Bullet,” Malcolm X uses a variety of rhetorical devices such as pathos, the usage of a slippery slope, repetition, and ethos in order to emphasize the mistreatment and discrimination that African-American citizens have experienced.

Malcolm’s use of pathos is the most powerful rhetorical device of his address. Throughout the speech, he continuously emphasizes that black citizens are the victims of American democracy. He explains, “I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of the victim. I don’t see any American dream; I see an American nightmare.” By repeating the word “victim,” Malcolm X is highlighting the years of discrimination and violence that African-American citizens have had to face. This invokes a sense of sadness and fear into the minds of his African-American audience as they feel betrayed by democracy and patriotism since they are not considered citizens due to their lack of rights.

The usage of a slippery slope by Malcolm helped further enlighten his audience of the need for equality. This is evident when he reveals that, 'Once you change your philosophy, you change your pattern, you change your attitude. Once you change your attitude, it changes your behavior pattern.' What he’s ultimately saying is that because you change your philosophy, you will begin to grow in other aspects of life such as your character. If this is done, the idea of being a free black man or woman becomes a lot more realistic opposed to the enslaved mentality that was instilled in African-Americans by the white supremacists. Malcolm assumes that if the philosophy of an individual diminishes, then they will not be as cognitive and fully aware of the rights they are entitled to as being citizens of America.

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Malcolm X employs the use of repetition in a numerous amount of occasions. He uses a variation of derogatory words such as “hunkies”, “polacks”, and “blue eyed thing”, to give his audience a feeling of fearlessness within themselves and their race.This repetition helps to leave a lasting impression on the audience, in such a way that every time the phrase is used, the people will reflect upon the speech of Malcolm X. Throughout the course of the speech, Malcolm makes sure to repeatedly use the word “you”. This helps in making the audience feel as if they are more apart of the process and apart of what Malcolm strives to achieve.

Throughout the speech, Malcolm X also uses ethos in order to emphasize his credibility and inspire his audience. For example, in the beginning of his speech, Malcolm immediately identifies with his target audience, the black community. He says, “No, I’m not an American. I’m one of the 22 million black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy.” In order to prove his decency and follow through with the expectations that the audience has for him, he shows his frustration and anger. Since he identifies as a black man and feels betrayed by the American system, his audience is more likely to listen closely to his speech and feel inspired to take charge with him. This also proves that Malcolm X is a qualified and knowledgeable speaker who has witnessed these issues, done his research, and is willing to fight for the well being of his fellow African-American citizens.

By using rhetorical devices such as pathos, the usage of a slippery slope, repetition, and ethos, Malcolm X is able to define the main issue of the American government continuing to oppress African-American citizens along with effectively criticizing American democracy as well as inspiring his audience to continue to fight for their rights as American citizens. By emphasizing the mistreatment and discrimination that these citizens have experienced, Malcolm X encourages black citizens to either demand their right to vote or be ready to take physical action if needed.

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Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 19, 2024, from
“Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 19 May 2024].
Malcolm X: The Ballot or the Bullet [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 29 [cited 2024 May 19]. Available from:

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