The Ballot or the Bullet

The Ballot or the Bullet Essay Questions

  1. 1

    When Malcolm X speaks about a choice between "the ballot" or "the bullet," for what two methods of achieving radical change is he advocating?

    The central dichotomy Malcolm X sets up in The Ballot or the Bullet is between affecting change through the democratic process and affecting change through revolution. "The ballot" means taking on the project of expanding one's political consciousness and "developing a political maturity." It calls for African-Americans to use their vote collectively to elect a candidate with their best interests at heart, and to no longer be fooled by the promises of white politicians like Lyndon B. Johnson, who retain close ties with Dixiecrats who actively oppose civil rights, and shift the blame to scapegoats within their party rather than taking responsibility themselves. "The bullet" means violent revolution to overthrow the white supremacy, should alternatives fail.

  2. 2

    Explain the significance of black nationalism to Malcolm's plan for racial uplift.

    Malcolm X strongly advocates for the political philosophy of black nationalism in The Ballot or the Bullet. For racial uplift to be possible, African-Americans must adopt the economic, political, and social principles of black nationalism. Politically, they must embark on a program of self-help by throughly educating themselves about existing democratic systems and potential candidates. They must be discerning in deciding who to vote for, and they must vote as a group for one candidate. Socially and economically, black nationalism means working toward owning, operating, and controlling the economy of African-American communities by supporting black-owned and -operated businesses, whose prosperity will elevate the community out of destitution.

  3. 3

    Why does Malcolm X conflate Dixiecrats and Democrats in The Ballot or the Bullet?

    Dixiecrats, or southern Democrats, were opposed to the 1963 Civil Rights Act and engaged in a large-scale filibuster against it. Malcolm X argues that "a Dixiecrat is nothing but a Democrat." The head of the Democratic party is also the head of the Dixiecrats, because they, too, are Democrats. Further, Lyndon B. Johnson, a Democrat, is the head of them all. He is also a close friend of Richard Russell, an openly racist politician and key figure in the white supremacist movement who campaigns against civil rights. Democrats are, in essence, Dixiecrats because it is in their interest to keep the Democratic party in power and a large portion of that power is based in the South, with the Dixiecrats. Malcolm X says that the "Northern Democrats are in cahoots with the Southern Democrats." Northern Democrats persuade African Americans that they are for civil rights so as to retain the black vote, even as they fail to pass large-scale civil rights legislation. They manipulate the black vote through gerrymandering, thus rendering it far less effective than the white vote.