Comparison of ‘I Have a Dream’ and ‘the Ballot or the Bullet’ Speeches
Malcolm X claimed that he was a Muslim minister, and that despite his religious affiliation, he wished not to convert any of his audience to Islam or change their opinions about their respective religions (Malcolm X para.2-8). Similarly, Martin Luther although being a Christian minister, in his speech did not try to influence his audience’s religious beliefs but concentrated his arguments on the common factor of oppression that the black population in America suffered.
The two speakers in their speeches were advocating for the recognition of the human rights of the African America that they considered being abused by the whites in America. According to the ‘ballot or the bullet’ speech by Malcolm X, all whites were not oppressors of African Americans, however all oppressors of African Americans were whites. Malcolm X reiterated that he was not against the white people rule of America, but he was against the double standard employed by white people when it comes to equality. Malcolm uses the example of an African American, whose skin color was outright black, who put on a turban on his head and headed into a white restaurant and was served yet if he had no turban on his head, he would not be admitted into the restaurant. According to Malcolm X, this tale shows how much the African American oppression was baseless on any worthy ideology other than just putting the black man down (Malcolm X para.4-16).
Despite the economic contributions that the African American had put into the success of America, prosperity and wealth still concentrated on the white people who controlled a majority of the key economic sectors of the country. It pained Malcolm X to know that other white people who were not previously American assume American citizenship automatically when they got to America from their respective continents and countries yet the African American who had lived in America for an entire lifetime did not yet have the freedom accorded to other citizens.
Malcolm stressed that there was no other option other that forceful takeover of the freedom denied by the white people. He said that even though the African Americans in some states had voting rights, their votes were a simple manipulation to elect a white politician who after being elected forgot the plight of the African American until the next election. Malcolm saw the ballot as a carrot dangled in front of the African Americans to imply that they had freedom and power to influence the governance of America, yet the whole idea was an illusion in reality.
Throughout his speech, Malcolm refers to the deception of the African American by quoting examples to show that the white person oppressing the African American does not wish to change the status quo. He even gives the example where the white oppressors resolve to shift district borders so that the African Americans in a particular area do not form a majority and elect one of their own. He champions for the realization of the deception and for the African American to put a stop to the oppression by taking charge.
Malcolm equates the ballot to a bullet and notes that with a bullet one had to take aim only when the target was within range and shoot. Therefore, with the ballot, the African American had to identify what they want in return for their vote and only vote when they are sure that the item was deliverable with their vote. In his speech, Malcolm says that if blacks fail to vote then the white democrats and republicans would have no clear majority. He says that the whites use the black vote for the sole reason of obtaining a majority in the Senate (Malcolm para.23).
The ballot or the bullet speech might be a response to the speech by Martin Luther in 1963 to disapprove the idea that collaboration and dialogue with the white person would yield any positive result for African American nationalism. Malcolm referred to the white people as hypocrites who would go to fight wars for democracy and integration in other nations, when in America they segregated the African American and feared the integration of the same would wipe away their economic and political advantage.
Martin Luther comes out as very compromising when his speech is compared to the ballot or the bullet speech of Malcolm X. In the, ‘I have a dream’ speech, Martin Luther related to factors affecting the African American in a metaphorical manner. He pointed out that the struggle for equality was a push for justice that would equitably serve the white and the black alike. He also identifies the irony of a free country that America was supposedly referred, even though after more than one hundred years the African American was not free. He reminds his audience of the hope embodied in the hearts of the African American’s during the declaration of freedom and how that hope had yet to be fulfilled.
Martin Luther accepted that the white governance of America had denied the African American their citizen rights but cleared away from blatantly calling out white people as the oppressors. He carefully chose the words of his speech to bring out the message of tolerance by both races towards each other. Luther did not advocate for a forceful claim of justice and instead appealed to the white people to change their oppressing views about the African American and start referring to the African American as Americans with equal rights as they had (Luther para.4-9).
Unlike Malcolm, Luther did not give a disclaimer about his religious affiliation; instead, he stuck to the theme of justice from the beginning to the end of his speech. He was rhetorical in his insistence of justice for all, reiterating that there could never be such a situation as insufficient justice to warrant the oppression of others. In addition to steering away from religion, Luther also steers away from referring to other similar revolutionary calls from other leaders championing for Black Nationalism. Moreover, unlike Malcolm, Luther’s speech did not have a reference to a specific time or date when the results he was advocating for were to be realized. He only tried to inspire his followers to increase their zeal for advocating for justice for all in America and to tolerate each other irrespective of the color of their skin.
Luther’s speech was reflective of an ideal future and was an encouragement to his audience, white and black to strive to realize the ideal future. He cautioned against viewing all white people as oppressors noting that, that would amount to going against the very ideals embodied in the speech. Throughout the ‘I have a dream’ speech, Luther did not explain the meaning of the dream but gave the details of the dream. He mentioned the various incidences of oppression in different parts of America through the mirror of what an ideal scenario would be. He describes his examples as if he was the character in the situations described so that his audience can identify with the incidences of oppression (Luther para.10-14).
Luther’s speech comes out as a powerful attempt to influence the ideology of Americans. He did not seek to direct each individual on how to go about their daily struggles for justice and nationalism, but wanted to influence their individual thoughts and decisions regarding the subject. Luther wanted his narration of an ideal America to inspire his audience without having to rely on a specific leader to drive the march for freedom. He implicitly advocated for each person to carry out a personal campaign for justice and this was akin to the call for guerilla tactics by Malcolm (Malcolm X para.30).
Malcolm identified guerilla warfare as the only weapon against the white Americans, given their sophisticated weapons and other military prowess. He called for personal initiatives to defeat the white oppressor in a way that prevents the white people from pinpointing to a target group of African Americans for retaliation. However, even though both leaders called for use of guerilla tactics in the revolution, the actual target of the application of those tactics was different. Martin targeted the ideology of his followers, such that each should seek to transform their friends one at a time, on the other hand, Malcolm targeted the physical confrontation of individual oppression acts, advocating for his followers to stand against any form of oppression as they encountered.
Another key difference of the two speeches was how the leaders perceived the white Americans who were responsible for the predicaments of the African American. Luther, by use of his words showed that not all whites were oppressors and that even the whites who denied blacks their justice could be influenced to change their stand through dialogue and reasoning. Malcolm also noted that not all whites were oppressors; however, he was adamant that it the intention of the white person was to maintain his power to rule the African American as he wished. An analysis of the ballot and the bullet brings out Malcolm’s advocacy for a reciprocation reaction for the white oppressor. He does not see the white oppressor changing through an ideological influence, and insisted that the white oppressor gained when there was a match for freedom as the case of Luther’s march, because he benefited economically through the trade in campaign merchandise and transportation of the campaigners. Malcolm was against using the system in place to call for change and instead wanted followers to put a stop to it by coming up with alternative ways from an individual’s perspective.
Although Luther and Malcolm championed for the rights of the African American, Luther seemed to refer to civil rights while Malcolm referred to human rights. Therefore, according to Luther, the situation required the acceptance of whites that African Americans had rights too, while according to Malcolm, whites were in violation of the humanity ideals and had to be forcefully reminded that human rights are given by birth rather than by constitutions. In accordance with this reflection, Luther appears to be tolerable to the white population while Malcolm appears as a radical to be avoided by white people. Luther’s message was powerful and did not depend on the strong character of a leader to spread, because it embodied ideals that appealed to a large majority of people. On the other hand, Malcolm had to physically drive his message and demonstrate its strength for it to gain more followers. Perhaps that was why ‘the ballot or the bullet’ speech was more than double the ‘I have a dream’ speech.
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