Malcolm X: Rhetoric for Black Nationalism

Malcolm X took the idiom “like father, like son” to  a whole new level with his devotion to the Black Nationalism Movement, by matching his father’s outspoken views about this revolutionary creed that strove to gain independence from the European society. At an early age, Malcolm X lost his father who, was assassinated by the Black Legion organization. His mom being emotional unfit was committed to a mental institution and Malcolm along with his siblings were split up and put into foster homes and orphanages (Biography). After a troublesome period in his life, Malcolm was introduced to the Nation of Islam organization by his brother and he begun to pursue his long journey of gaining equality for his race.

Malcolm X’s charismatic speeches were able to move many and helped the Black Revolution gain more support due to the plethora of rhetorical devices he used as well as the connection he was able to create with his audience. Using analogies, biblical allusions, and vivid adjectives to create a black and white world with only one interpretation of the events being carried out, he was able to inspire his audience to act against slavery and segregation. With the use of epideictic rhetoric, X was able to amplify the feelings of the black community and bring light to the oppression they were enduring by their white “superiors.”

While Malcolm X’s The Black Revolution and God’s Judgment of White America call for a more violent response from the African American community, The Ballot or The Bullet takes a less aggressive approach. This change in voice could be due to his change of heart towards Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam organization. In all three speeches, X makes analogies using the wolf to symbolize the White conservatives who “show their teeth in a snarl that keeps that Negro always aware of where he stands with them” and the fox to represent the White Liberals who “lure the Negro” with their smile and “as the Negro runs from the growling wolf, he flees into the open jaws of the smiling fox (God’s Judgment of White America).” He also states that even though they are two different animals, they come from the same race  and therefore are the same (The Ballot or The Bullet). This image of the two vicious animals waiting for the Negros to fall into their trap symbolizes the harsh environment in which the African Americans are forced to live in, without the option to go back to their home country.

Setting up a scenario where it’s either “them or us,” Malcolm X attempts to persuade his people to act. Along with analogies, X also uses the biblical allusion of the shepherd and his sheep. In God’s Judgment of White America, he states that the African Americans are “referred to in the symbolism of the Scripture as the Lost Sheep” which makes a connection with the Christian African Americans in the audience with the Holy Book of God, the Bible. This connection helps Malcolm establish his authority on this issue and convinces the people that they are the “lost sheep” that the bible speaks of. He farther states that “God will separate his black sheep from the white goat” and “the goats are to be slaughtered (God’s Judgment of White America).”  Because God does not allow the sheep to integrate with the goat, how can the African Americans be expected to integrate with the wolf? Using this logical fallacy, he makes his point clear to his Christian audience that separation of the two races is a must; in fact, it is decreed by God. Using common Prophets from Judaism, Islam and Christianity, he makes his point by saying that in the Jewish, Islamic and Biblical past, the good have had to separate from the evil so that God could punish the evil and the same must be done so that “White America” is punished for her crimes against his race (Black Revolution). Using Prophets that are known by most if not all of his audience, he reaffirms a connection previously established with the Christian members of the audience to include everyone else.

Throughout The Black Revolution and God’s Judgment of White America, Malcolm X uses the phrase “The Honorable Elijah Muhammad” to amplify the beliefs of the Nation of Islam organization with the use of epideictic rhetoric. He does not claim to speak from his own mind, but just regurgitates what Elijah Muhammad, the president of Nation of Islam, believes to be true. He equates the president of this organization to a present-day Prophet here to free the African American people to establish his authenticity and Elijah Muhammad’s.

Along with biblical allusions and analogies, Malcolm X also uses vivid adjectives to create a black and white world.  Using words like “blood-thirsty wolf,” “childlike patriotism,” and “nonbelieving infidels,” X establishes a negative white America with a clear line between the Blacks, the good, and the Whites, the evil. With this clear image of the American population, Malcolm X attempts to convince this audience to act and gain freedom by separating from the White race. In The Ballot or The Bullet, he states that people for integration and separation have the “same objective.” These two groups of people have different ideas how to get freedom which unifies the whole African American population and well defines this separation between the blacks and the whites.

Malcolm has been credited for substantially increasing the size of the Nation of Islam several folds due to his charisma and inspiring speeches full of many rhetorical devices to persuade his audience to act against the oppression of the African American race. These speeches were able to help the Black Revolution gain the support of the African Americans and the White population that saw this injustice and struggled to gain equal rights for their fellow Americans.



Works Cited

“Biography.” Malcolm X Offical Website. Web. 8 March 2012.

Malcolm X. “The Black Revolution.” Web. 8 March 2012.

Malcolm X. “God’s Judgement of White America (The Chickens Come Home to Roost).” Web 8 March 2012.

Malcolm X. “The Ballot or the Bullet (April 12, 1964).” Malcolm X. Web. 8 March 2012.


3 responses to “Malcolm X: Rhetoric for Black Nationalism

  1. This was extremely interesting. Although I learned in my history class that not everyone took the same stance as Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement and that some thought violence would bring about a quicker resolution, I had no idea that there were some who believed it would be better to remain segregated.

  2. I really liked this post. I didn’t really know much about Malcom X before reading this; I didn’t even know he was Muslim which portrays how little I knew of him. I liked how you highlighted his common use of animal symbolism throughout. I found that to be very interesting and also very informative. It was a great way to solidify and depict the message he was trying to get across to his audience.

  3. Very interesting and easy to follow. I haven’t followed X so hearing how he describes whites as Wolves and Foxes definitely gives me an idea of how he thought of them. I can see how these strong analogies can have an effect on people.

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