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
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.