Channeling Malcolm….The Ballot or the Bullet “The Fate of our Community Lies in Our UNITY”
The Ballot or the Bullet was a speech given, April 3, 1964 at a symposium entitled, “The Negro Revolt-What Comes Next? In this speech Malcolm outlines three key areas of focus for the Black community to rebuild ourselves. It’s all about unity!
Political philosophy: Uniting Our Political Power
Black people should control the politics and politicians in their community. Malcolm believed that the “Black man in the black community has to be re-educated into the science of politics so he will know what politics is supposed to bring him in return.
Economic philosophy: Uniting Our Dollars
Black people should control the economics of their community. As Malcolm asserted, the “philosophy of black nationalism involves a re-education program in the black community in regards to economics.
Social philosophy: Uniting Our Social/Community Reach
Black people should unite to eradicate social ills in their communities’ such as drugs and crime and build vibrant and model communities.
Economic Empowerment = Building and Supporting Our Own Businesses
The economic philosophy of Black nationalism only means that we have to become involved in a program of re-education. To educate our people into the importance of knowing that when you spend your dollar out of the community in which you live the community in which you spend your money becomes richer and richer; the community out of which you take your money becomes poorer, and poorer.
And because these Negroes who have been misled and misguided, are breaking their necks to spend their money with the man, the man is becoming richer and richer and you’re becoming poorer and poorer.
And then what happens? The community in which you live becomes a slum; it becomes a ghetto. The conditions become rundown. And then you have the audacity to complain about poor housing, in a rundown community. Why you run it down yourself when you take your dollars out!
And you and I are in a double trap. Because, not only do we lose by taking our money some place else and spending it, when we try and spend our money in our community, we’re trapped because we haven’t had the sense enough to set up stores and control the businesses of our community.
The man who’s controlling the stores in our community is a man who doesn’t look like we do. He’s a man who doesn’t even live in the community. So you and I even when we try and spend our money in the block where we live, or the area where we live we’re spending it with a man who when the sun goes down takes that basket full of money in another part of the town.
So our people not only have to be re-educated to the importance of supporting Black business but the Black man himself has to be made aware of the importance of going into business. And once you and I go into business, we own and operate, at least the businesses in our community, what we will be doing is developing a situation wherein we will actually be able to create employment for the people in the community.
And once you can create some employment in the community where you live it will eliminate the necessity of you and me having to act ignorantly and disgracefully, boycotting and picketing someplace else trying to beg him for a job.
Political Power = A United Political Strategy
The black man in the black community has to be re-educated into the science of politics so he will know what politics is supposed to bring him in return. A ballot is like a bullet. You don’t throw your ballots until you see a target, and if that target is not within your reach, keep your ballot in your pocket.” Thus, political maturity, according to Malcolm X, means African Americans demanding something in return for their vote. “They get all the Negro vote…and after they get it, the Negro gets nothing in return. That’s camouflage, that’s trickery, that’s treachery, window-dressing… you put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last.”
Malcolm believes that political maturity for African Americans also required them to reexamine their relationship with the Democratic Party. In Malcolm view, as indicated above, the Democrats exploited blacks, making promises, especially as it related to civil rights and failing to make good on those promises. He asserted, “You just can’t belong to that Party without analyzing it.” He therefore calls for a new strategy: “I say again, I’m not anti-Democrat, I’m not anti-Republican, I’m not anti-anything. I’m just questioning their sincerity, and some of the strategy that they’ve been using on our people by promising them promises that they don’t intend to keep. That’s why, in 1964, it’s time now for you and me to become more politically mature and realize what the ballot is for; what we’re supposed to get when we cast a ballot; and that if we don’t cast a ballot, it’s going to end up in a situation where we’re going to have to cast a bullet. It’s either a ballot or a bullet.”
Social Change Starts and Ends with the Work we are willing to do
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. So I say, in spreading a gospel such as black nationalism, it is not designed to make the black man re-evaluate the white man — you know him already — but to make the black man re-evaluate himself.