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Rant During a time of extreme social injustice, the Civil Rights Era called for equal rights, regardless of what skin color people were the only voice the Black Community had were through their influential representatives and leaders. One of these voices and leaders being Malcolm X. Malcolm X, a famous Black activist, had no problem in pointing out obvious flaws being produced by white American society at the time. In one of his most famous speeches, “By Any Means Necessary”, X calls for justice and equal rights for the black community, no matter what it takes and no matter what the consequences. Even if those rights had to be gained through extreme means, such as violence. Although many would consider this speech to be a “borderline rant”, Malcolm X seemed to have been well justified in his passions. Whatever people may think this speech is considered as; there is no doubt that there is some sense of extreme urgency in his exigence. This exigence in this speech being that there were an obvious lack of equal rights for African Americans, in a country where supposedly all citizens of the United State are supposed to be guaranteed to be treated equally. Malcolm X was able to make his rant so effective through the use of this exigence and other rhetorical devices that many people were able to support his justification of using violence to gain rights. Also, the speech was so effective that shortly afterwards begin taking matters into the own hands like X said they should. In this commentary of Malcolm X’s speech, we will see why people usually do not find rants effective as a whole, as well how he used rhetorical frameworks to make his “rant” effective. A rant, according to the excerpt ‘Forms of Rhetoric: The Rant’, is a speech that includes three obvious characteristics. The speech or rant normally includes something that can be perceived as one-sided or having binary structure, where the opposing side is blatantly wrong and the speaker himself claims he is right, no matter what he says. Another characteristic of rants is that they are usually
2 “spontaneous” and filled with a lot of passion or intense emotion. Lastly, rants usually include a lot of rhetorical questions and repetition that are usually articulated at a fast rate. A lot of people are not fans of speeches that sound like rants, mainly because they seem brash. The fact that they are usually one-sided makes the orator appear arrogant. Another reason is that the fast tempos at which rants are usually articulated and the emotions rants are filled with make the orator seem less credible. This is because it seems as if the orator did not prepare ahead of time or is too caught up in his own opinion, therefore seeming like he is speaking nonsense. The last reason why a lot of people are opposed to rants is because most of the time the speaker is simply just listing binaries or reasons and ideas as to why the opposing side is wrong. Also, identifying themselves with characteristics, in which the opposing side does not do not identify with or visa versa. Again, when all of these characteristics are incorporated into a rant it may seem ineffective in persuading an audience, however using aspects of rants may prove to be effective depending on the exigence. In regards to Malcolm X’s ‘By Any Means Necessary’ speech, such as having high passion and constantly stating the other side is immoral and incorrect. However, again, he is justified in his passion due to the context of his exigence. Malcolm X is a prime example of where he is able to use aspects and characteristics of rants effectively, sparingly and tactfully. Before we address as to why Malcolm X’s rant is effective, we must be able to understand the specific exigence and how it justifies his reason to approach the situation as a rant in the first place. When we understand how the rant is justifiable, it is then when we will be able to understand as to why it is so effective. According to Bitzer, “Exigence is an imperfection marked by urgency, it is a defect, an obstacle, some thing waiting to be done, and a thing which is other than it should be.” In this case, the general problem is that Blacks are not being granted the rights in which they deserve. Again, the Civil Rights era was a time filled with turmoil, social injustice and inhumanity. Even almost a hundred years after the Emancipation Proclamation had been passed in 1863, blacks were still being mistreated, almost as if slavery had never been abolished. They were not granted equal rights, forced to be isolated from society and were not protected under much legislation by the federal
3 government. During this hectic time, representatives of the Black community begin to gain recognition from the general public. However, things were not happening at fast enough rates for the Black Community, in a country where the reputation is supposed to be equality for everyone. During the civil rights era, legislation in order to protect Blacks, as well as legislation to grant them equal rights seemed to have come to a halt. At times, it also seemed as if Blacks had no rights at all. Since previous attempts and approaches for equal rights had not made a large impact, Malcolm X feels Blacks must gain justice by “any means necessary.” This “halt in legislation”, as well as lack of equal rights, would have been the specific exigence or problem, in which would have motivated Malcolm X to deliver such a speech or what many would argue as a rant. This justifies Malcolm X’s approach to delivering his message in the form of a rant. All speakers of course have an urgent message when delivering their speech, they all want change as soon as possible. However, in Malcolm X's speech, made his exigence beyond urgent. After many years of oppression of the Black Community he feels that it is time for immediate change. He an the Black Community feel it is simply unacceptable that prejudice the denial of rights to one group of people still exists in a modernized democracy. Now, that we better understand as to why Malcolm X chose to deliver his message as a rant, we can also better analyze as to how his rant was effective. Malcolm X is able to prove his rant as effective by using certain rhetorical devices, the main one primarily being identification, however through logos and ethos as well. X exemplifies how America has failed to grant Blacks equal rights when he tells the audience of his religious refuge to Africa. He compares the civil rights situation in Africa verses here, stating something along the lines that America is still currently living in the dark ages when it comes to civil rights compared to Africa, a third world country in many aspects. Malcolm X further supports his argument by using phrases and words such as, “our people” and our “brothers” in Africa. This helps identify himself and the audience with being from Africa as well, that they are one of the same. By using identification, Malcolm X adds legitimacy to his argument, as well as a sense of relatibility. It also helps the audience identify and connect to Malcolm X
4 on a more personal level, as well as relate to the situation that he is telling. He states to the audience: “Just ten years ago on the African continent, our people were colonized. They were suffering all forms of colonization, oppression, exploitation, degradation, humiliation, discrimination, and every other kind of -ation. And in a short time, they have gained more independence, more recognition, more respect as human beings than you and I have.” Here, the audience can see that Africans were able to break free of colonists by forming an organization and rebelling against the government, even if that meant through acts of violence at times. However, the act of violence here seems justifiable, since the outcome meant equal rights for Africans and in a short amount of time nonetheless. By using this example, Malcolm X presents two similar situations where people of color were exploited and treated unfairly, yet two totally different outcomes have occurred. Yes, some would feel that his justification for the use of violence is politically incorrect and immoral, however you cannot deny that the reasons in which he gives has some justification. That justification being that he wants to demonstrate that the Black Community in America needs to “lay down the law” and stop being so passive when it come stop such an important issue, such as civil rights. These two sentences alone of the speech used identification in order to connect to the audience, comparisons and history of similar events. All of these help his rant seem less brash, if not more credible and logical than anything. The use of these rhetorical devices shows that Malcolm X is in fact not arrogant or close-minded, but rather that he is knowledgeable on the subject of civil rights. These rhetorical devices also help demonstrate the urgency of the situation, as well as how fed up he and his people are with how the situation is being handled by the federal government or not even at all in some cases. The last rhetorical framework and possibly the most effective, is being able to relate Malcolm X’s speech to the concept of Quintilian’s definition of a “good man”, as well as a broader use of identification. Quintilian argues, “A great orator must always be a good man.” He also states “a good man may sometimes be justified in misleading those
5 whom he addresses, for the attainment of some good object.” This statement can be applied to Malcolm X. Although Malcolm X may seem to be misleading his audience by encouraging acts of violence, he is doing so that his oppressed group of people (in this case people of color) will be able to attain the “good object” of equal rights. Malcolm X, therefore fits the definition of a good man entirely. What makes him a good man is that he realizes that the federal government, as well as the majority of white society, is getting away with mistreating people simply because of the difference in the color of their skin. Malcolm X gives justification through out his entire speech as to why this concept as wrong, however possibly the most powerful statement of the speech is when he says: “We declare our right on this earth to be a man, to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.” This is one of the most powerful statements of the speech because it forces the audience members, whatever skin color they may be to question their morality. This use of identification according to Burke can be used to show how “groups are at odds with each other,” as well as how they may be “less at odds with one another” (1020). In this case, it helps prove that all people, regardless of skin color are “less at odds with one another.” It helps any audience member who is not able to identify with being black to relate to Malcolm X in someway and realize what the exigence he is trying to get across is. Again, we can see identification is thus used here again, however in a broader sense. Malcolm X wants everyone to realize that no matter what skin color someone is, they are humans and all humans deserve to be respected. This being something in which everyone should be able to identify with and agree upon. Hence, why he used the statement and why it was so effective in holding attention. This, being able to further justify as why violence may be necessary in order to be granted equal rights. Despite, what people want to label the speech as, Malcolm X as a rhetor used a number of rhetorical devices in order to make his speech the most effective it could be, so that his fellow people would feel the need to take action. Ultimately, Malcolm X wanted to address how dire the situation was for the black community at the time. The fact that Malcolm X chooses to approach the speech in way that appears as a rant is very effective for this exigence. It differentiates Malcolm X from
6 previous civil rights leaders’, who had seemed to have only talked about what could be done rather than what should be done. Although many people feel rants are not an effective way of motivating people to want to change something, Malcolm X approached his rant in a intelligent and tactful way that makes his much more effective than others’. It is important to analyze as to how his exigence and the rhetorical devices in which he uses makes his rant seem effective and not too arrogant or too extreme. It proved to be effective because Malcolm X’s words truly motivated the Black Community to gain equal rights by taking physical action. This physical action being something that eventually helped Blacks gain their rights to be treated equally in a society where everyone should have been from the start. Works Cited Grant-Davie, Keith. “Rhetorical Situations and Their Constituents.” Rhetoric Review 15.2 (1887): 264-79. Print.
Quintilian, First. Quintilian's Institutes of Oratory . Print. X, Malcolm. “By Any Means Necessary.” Speech. 1964 . Youtube. Web. 30 October 2011 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhg6LxyTnY8>
Burke, First. A Rhetoric of Motives .
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