malcolm x

The Ballot or the Bullet: Remembering Malcolm X in the Age Of Trump

Today marks the anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, prominent human rights activist, and one of the most influential leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Publically vilified as an ‘unashamed demagogue’ and ‘a pimp, a cocaine addict, and a thief,’ by the mainstream media even at the time of his death, Malcolm X’s revolutionary and unapologetic stance on Black Nationalism made him a controversial figure. Though Malcolm X’s assassination has historically been written of as an act of sectarian violence between him and the Nation of Islam which he had left in 1964, researchers have uncovered more sinister ties connecting his death to negligence, or worse, the active complicity, of the U.S. government, and U.S. law enforcement. The FBI had kept close tabs on Malcolm X, and were directed under director J. Edgar Hoover to ‘do something about Malcolm X.’

It was unquestionable that Malcolm X posed a grave threat to the status quo and white supremacy. He contributed enormously to radical left politics, with a firm commitment to ending racism, imperialism, capitalism, and embracing justice for all, through whichever means necessary. It would be fitting in an age where we witness the revival of white supremacy and violence on minority communities to honour Malcolm X’s legacy by remembering his words.

Below is a speech of Malcolm X that is particularly relevant in contemporary times. In Ballot or Bullet, Malcolm X discusses both the importance, and the limitations, of participation in the peaceful political process. His words about the Democrats doing little to protect the minority votes that they court — ‘You put the Democrats first and the Democrats put you last’ — ring true even today.

Malcolm ends the speech with a call to militancy if the political process fails to protect minorities:

They’re not going singing ”We Shall Overcome.” They’re not going with white friends. They’re not going with placards already painted for them. They’re not going with round-trip tickets. They’re going with one way tickets. And if they don’t want that non-nonviolent army going down there, tell them to bring the filibuster to a halt.

The black nationalists aren’t going to wait. Lyndon B. Johnson is the head of the Democratic Party. If he’s for civil rights, let him go into the Senate next week and declare himself. Let him go in there right now and declare himself. Let him go in there and denounce the Southern branch of his party. Let him go in there right now and take a moral stand — right now, not later. Tell him, don’t wait until election time. If he waits too long, brothers and sisters, he will be responsible for letting a condition develop in this country which will create a climate that will bring seeds up out of the ground with vegetation on the end of them looking like something these people never dreamed of. In 1964, it’s the ballot or the bullet.

As more and more civil rights are eroded in the Trump era, Malcolm’s words serve as a reminder of the dangers of oppressing minorities through a collusion of both parties in power.  It’s time politicians, and civil society, start speaking up and out against the stripping and debasement of the humanity of communities of color.



Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and politics, intersectional feminism, criminal justice, human rights, freedom of the press, the law and feminism, and the politics of South Asia.

Meg is a law student in California. She's interested in law and gender, race and criminal justice, human rights, cats, and sports.

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