The Justification of ‘The Bullet’

Malcolm X’s speech entitled “The Ballot or the Bullet” is a rhetorically powerful argument that touches on the difficult issue of when violence is justifiable.  Although some may have deemed his speech ‘radical’, I believe that his ideas are actually quite reasonable. In particular, I think that Malcolm’s argument for the possible threat or use of violence, deemed ‘the bullet’, is justified.  Malcolm makes it clear that he believes the threat of ‘the bullet’ is essential to gaining rights of citizenship to African Americans. Malcolm highlights the severe violations of African American rights in the beginning if his speech.  He then goes on to explain to African Americans that, “The law is on your side, and anyone who stands in the way is not the law any longer.”  So why was Malcolm’s push for the possible threat of violence acceptable? I believe that Malcolm’s threat of violence is justified for two reasons. The first is that the rights of African Americans were clearly being violated. Secondly, the rights of other Americans were not in jeopardy if African Americans obtained their due rights. 

I believe that the infringements of African American rights during the time of Malcolm’s speech are obvious.  ‘Jim Crow’ laws, gerrymandering, and blatant racial discrimination were all prevalent in American society during this time period.  An important distinction must be made between the rights of other American citizens and the interests of American citizens.  With the threat of African Americans obtaining suffrage, many whites were scared of the disruption of the social hierarchy of American society.  Whites would no longer dominate the political, social, and economical aspects of America.  However, this loss of prominence in society does not justify the prevention of African Americans gaining rights.  The over-reaching societal power whites held was unjust from inception because it deprived another group of people from their due rights.  The rights Malcolm X highlighted did not affect the basic rights of white Americans, such as earning or voting. African American obtaining rights only threatened the unequal influence whites had in society. 

Therefore, Malcolm X’s message of the necessity of immediate action to obtain rights for African Americans is justified, by any means necessary.  If the rights fairly deserved by a group of people can only be obtained through violence as a last resort, then the use of violence must be justifiable.  The necessity of equal rights for all citizens trumps the need for a non-violent society.  I think that Malcolm X was not ‘pro-violence,’ but simply realized that it may be necessary when there is no other tool for reaching equality.  Other comparisons throughout the history of America can be made illustrating the justification of violence when rights are being infringed upon.  What better example could be used than Paine’s call for violent revolution against Britain during the foundation of America? America was founded because people living in the colonies believed violence was justifiable when their rights were infringed upon.  Violent actions were a last resort for colonists to have a voice in the political decision making process and have a voice in society.  The

Thomas Paine

hypocrisy of preventing African Americans from obtaining their deserved rights in America when this country faced a similar situation in its founding is evident.  Thankfully, African Americans today have received vast gains in their rights without the use of an all-out violent revolution.  Perhaps it was simply the threat of violence articulated by Malcolm X that aided in these advancements of rights. 


So how would Malcolm X feel about the current status of African Americans on today’s society?  I believe that because barriers against African Americans participating in democracy through voting have been removed, X would be in a much happier state of mind.  However, it is likely that X would not approve of the current socio-economic status faced by African Americans in the United States.  There is much improvement that must be done in order for African Americans to reach economic equality.   Although it is possible that X would still call for the possible use of violence to solve these societal problems, I think that he would see the potential political discourse has in reaching a just solution.  The inequalities faced by present day African Americans are different than what was faced in the 1960’s. As a whole, I believe Americans are not only more tolerant of diversity in society, but recognize the need for equality for all people.  Therefore, in my opinion Malcolm X would be inclined to stray from the threat of violence andcall for non-violent solutions because of the enhanced power that African Americans carry in the modern day.  Solutions to the problem of inequality are more likely to be gained when the persecuted group has a greater voice in political decisions.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Justification of ‘The Bullet’

  1. kmuth0307 says:

    This is an interesting post, and raises a lot of questions. Regarding the current state of socio- economic status for African Americans, I do not think Malcom X would have advocated violence. Instead he would reiterate the importance of cleaning up and bettering themselves. Malcom X states, “The social philosophy of black nationalism only means that we have to get together and remove the evils, the vices, alcoholism, drug addiction, and other evils that are destroying the moral fiber of our community. We ourselves have to lift the level of our community, the standard of our community to a higher level, make our own society beautiful so that we will be satisfied in our own social circles and won’t be running around here trying to knock our way into a social circle where we’re not wanted.” I believe in this respect he would be very disappointed in his race. African Americans are not the only race that suffer from poverty, alcoholism, and drug addiction. Native Americans, Caucasians, and many others suffer as well. I am not saying that he would be disappointed in his race because they are MORE poverty stricken or addicted than other races, but simply that they suffer from drugs and alcohol abuse, where these issues are avoidable. He would support more active anti- drug and alcohol campaigns in these communities. However, I do not think that violence would be used, unless under circumstances of gang affiliation. Or perhaps he would support using violence to combat drug lords. It is hard to say what angle he would take, but I am confident that he would see this issue as crucial to African Americans moving up in society.

  2. davidkoz says:

    Brian raises an interesting point in determining the appropriateness of Malcolm X’s call to violence in his speech “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Since violence has been inflicted upon African Americans in attempts to suppress their desire for universal freedom, it seems only fair that African Americans should be able to turn to violence–as a last resort–to obtain their civil and material rights. One could say that X’s speech expresses the desire for peace while it mentions violence as the means to achieve this peace. This seems contradictory but X sees no true alternative. This reminds me of a passage from Henry D. Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” in which the author writes “We preserve the so-called ‘peace’ of our community by deeds of petty violence every day” (Zinn xxviii). This quote begs the question: if violence preserves peace, why can’t African Americans use violence as a means to attain equality? I believe that X’s call for violence is justified when one considers it as a last resort that is meant to end American democracy’s “victimization of African Americans.”

  3. brt001 says:

    I don’t believe that the bullet is ever a justification. Honestly, I let my religious beliefs inform my morality, rather like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King and I both derived a different means of resistance from the value system we both hold to. My personal belief like that of Dr. King’s is of a subtle-but-forceful resistance. One of the things central to this notion is the “turn the other cheek” ideal displayed by Jesus

    “38 ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.'” (Matthew 5:38-40 NIV84)

    These are the words of Jesus that informed much of King’s movement. However, this is not implying passivity, merely disobedience. In Hebrew culture of the time, men would strike a man of inferior status by backhanding him, showing him his place. However, if you turned your cheek, it would force the man to strike you open-handed, a gesture that would acknowledge a conflict between two equals. X’s notion is to use violence to advance a cause. I believe men like Booker T. Washington (though the achievements of his ideals were imperfect) and MLK to be more influential toward change than men advocating outlandish ideas like X with “Bullet,” or Marcus Garvey (whose separatist beliefs were quite fringe, i.e. Black Star Line

  4. lgeorge905 says:

    I disagree with the author’s views on violence. I do not argue that African Americans were justified in responding to violence with violence, but I believe that course of action is generally less preferable than non-violence. Consider this statistic: From 1966 to 1999 nonviolent civic resistance has played a critical role in 50 of 67 transitions from authoritarianism. Thoreau’s Civil disobedience is an example of the ways in which groups can contest governmental policy without the use of violence. There are claims that “Civil disobedients’ refraining from violence is also said to help preserve society’s tolerance of civil disobedience”. My argument isn’t that violence can’t ever be an acceptable form of resistance, but I believe other qualifications are necessary than the two that you outlined- that rights were being violated and others’ rights wouldn’t be violated after resistance. When you wrote ” I think that Malcolm X was not ‘pro-violence,’ but simply realized that it may be necessary when there is no other tool for reaching equality” you make the case that violence, in this case, was not a desired response, because it ultimately was determined to not be necessary. Violence is often not the preferred response to injustice.

  5. erikamir says:

    I think this blog post raises a lot of interesting points. I personally think back in the 1960s that protest was very important to gaining rights. However, I think violence during the civil rights era was justified. Much violence were taking out on black Americans. I think that violence on the account of self defense is justified and in this case I think it can be argued that this was an example of self defense. Black Americans were defending their safety, and their status through society. I prefer for people to take the passive route much like MLK but sometimes enough is enough and you have to fight for what you believe in.

  6. mrs010 says:

    This post is important, to me, because it ties in how Malcolm X, or someone like him, would view the African-American’s status in contemporary America. I believe it is important to note, that while it may be true African-Americans may not have achieved “economic equality”, the circumstances during Malcolm X’s civil rights endeavors and now are much different. There was a much greater need for a Malcolm X during the mid-20th century, as segregation and political inequality were still very prevalent. At this point, everyone who is an American citizen can vote, go to school, and, for the most part, do so with a lack of any obstruction. With that said, there is undoubtedly progress needed to achieve any sort of equality for people outside of the nation’s elites, regardless of race. I think Malcolm X and other rights activists opened up a society that is now dying for people to answer the call and speak for everyone else.

  7. charliefilips says:

    This is a really good post. In regards to how Malcom X would feel about today’s society, I do not believe he would view the objectives of black nationalism as having been completed. Many of Malcom X’s goals have been accomplished. There are no longer unreasonable barriers that prevent African Americans from freely exercising their right to vote. Additionally, the African American community currently exists as a powerful political force, one capable of influencing the result of significant elections (as evidenced by the overwhelming support of Barack Obama in the 2008 election). However, the economic objectives of black nationalism have not been achieved. According to Malcom X, “the economic philosophy of black nationalism is pure and simple. It only means that we should control the economy of our community.” Malcom X believes that in order for the black community to prosper financially and to have the ability to develop the communities in which they live, they must own the businesses and banks of their own community. This is simply not a reality of modern day society. The great socio-economic inequality between African Americans and white people further affirms that Malcom X’s objectives have not been achieved. I’m quite certain Malcom X would be very put off by the statistic that one in nine black men between ages 20-34 are incarcerated, in comparison with the broad national average of 1/99.1 adults. I cannot definitively say how I think Malcom X would attempt to alter this inequality. I think you make a valid point in saying that Malcom X would be “inclined to stray from the threat of violence and call for non-violent solutions because of the enhanced power that African Americans carry in the modern day.” Overall, I think Malcom X would be optimistic about the social changes that have happened between the 60s and today, but he would not be completely satisfied with the position of African Americans in modern day society.

Leave a Reply