Rhetorical Analysis of Malcolm X

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Chris Dennis
Critical Analysis of Communication

Malcolm X’s Effectiveness as a Speaker Should not be in Question

The context in which a statement is made can change the entire meaning of what was said.  This is why many times people will use context as a defense for statements they make that offend or cause some sort of public backlash.   The manner in which a person delivers a message and what messages the rhetor chooses to deliver can be a great indication of foundation of that persons value and belief system. There are a number of value systems present in Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech that he delivered in the storied election year of 1964. There are many statements made in the ballot or the bullet speech that would paint Malcolm X in negative light.  Though, the manner in which a statement is delivered relevant to the context can make the difference between a person being labeled positively or negatively.  Often, when people read the words of Malcolm X in present day, without knowledge of the historical situation, his messages and his identity as a diplomat and a visionary, can get distorted.  I think many fail to realize the contextual situation that Malcolm X was involved in, which caused him to come off as militant or aggressive. When really his word choice was a product of his passion and pride in what he believed in.  I think many consider Martin Luther King Jr. to be the driving force behind the civil rights movement but there is just as much to be said about Malcolm X.  Malcolm X is one of the most discussed, but least understood figures of contemporary history (Varda, pg.3).  Malcolm X’s speech ” The Ballot or the Bullet“ was a speech given in the wake of the passing of the civil rights bill and was a call to action to not just the African American community but to all of those United States citizens who claimed to believe in human rights. The call to action was to not be satisfied and pretend like they are “Eating at the diner, when there is no food on your plate”.  Malcolm X was attempting to make his audience aware of the implications of what ended up being one of the most controversial elections years in United States history. But how do you persuade an audience that may not agree with your methods?  Malcolm X used a shift in his values system and his persona in order to effectively persuade his audience. “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech was a driving force towards the cultivation of the civil rights era and Malcolm’s redefinition of himself should grant him a more prominent role in our nations rich history.

The History preceding and proceeding “the Ballot or the Bullet” speech is what creates many of the ideals that are represented within it. Before this speech was delivered people of Color were not awarded the same basic rights offered at birth to those Americans of European or “white” dissent.  Malcolm wanted his audience to realize this during his speech when he states, “Those Honkies that just got off the boat, they're already Americans; Everything that came out of Europe, every blue-eyed thing, is already an American. And as long as you and I have been over here, we aren't Americans yet.” Its also often forgotten that a month before delivering this speech he announced publicly his separation with the Black Nationalist organization known as the Nation of Islam (Melvin Procter, pg. 1).  This is the radical organization in which he had been a vocal and active leader of for over the past the decade. It is very important to remember that Malcolm realized the organization in which he had been so loyal too over the past decades ideal’s had grown in an entirely different direction than Malcolm’s.  The civil right’s movement was an advocate for integration and against racial segregation while the Nation of Islam had strong beliefs in separatism and that blacks should continue as separate but equal (Childs, pg 5).  This separatist persona that the Nation of Islam...
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