The purpose of this paper is to give an in depth evaluation of Malcolm X’s speech at Ronald Stokes funeral service in Los Angeles on 5 May, 1962, by discussing 8 important aspects. Stokes had been killed on 27 April by the Los Angeles Police Department at a local mosque which they had previously monitored. On that fateful night, there was a controversial altercation between mosque members and the police. This culminated in an overpowering police force taking the lives of 7 Nation of Islam members, one of whom was Stokes.
Malcolm X`s speeches are broadly recognized for his undeniable talent to make his thoughts catchy and convincing for the audience. In many of his speeches he relies on modes of persuasion such as ethos, pathos, and logos. This explains why he had so many followers and supporters. This speech, made in Los Angeles, reflects his innate ability to make an emotional appeal to the audience. The YouTube video is proof that Malcolm found a hugely positive response in the minds and hearts of everyone who listened to him.
1. How would you rate the speaker’s ethos?
I rate Malcolm X’s ethos as extremely high. Ethos can be described as an expressive rhetoric mode aimed at proving a speaker’s credibility. Malcolm X’s ethos is obvious from the very beginning. During the first minute, he gives thanks to Elijah Mohammad, his honorable leader. Malcolm X feels that it is because of Elijah Mohammad that so many people are in attendance. Malcolm X’s credibility is thus proved, but his ethos is not inclusive for the entire the audience: As Malcolm X was a human rights activist, he was struggling to protect all African-Americans, regardless of their diverse religious background and practices or their political perspectives.
2. Was the speech adapted to its listeners’needs and interests?
I feel that Malcolm X targeted a broader audience than solely African-American Muslims, even though the majority of people sitting in the room were black Muslims. This reflection leads to the conclusion that he fails to deliver a very strong ethos. Presenting himself as black man rather than simply Muslim, would give him more credit. Nonetheless, Malcolm X’s ethos is explained by his membership in The Nation of Islam. So, I would rate his ethos as 7 out of 10.
The speech was adapted extremely well to the needs and interests of his listeners. Malcolm X reminds them about their power, about the value of their skin color. Every word he delivers addresses the problem of discrimination and racial inequality. He states that the actions of whites are not solely a violation of civil rights, but rather a violation of human rights. He touches upon every problem that African-Americans are suffering, including crime and violence. A large number of blacks are accused of a crime, and Malcolm X has also been charged. He clearly states that he will never let anyone use his criminal record against him. He also makes the point that criminal records are high among African-Americans only because white people want it that way.
The audience needs to be convinced that all their troubles, including their lowly position in society, are the result of racial oppression and discrimination. He poses a number of questions such as: “Who taught you to hate yourself from the top of your head to the soles of your feet?… [and] to hate the race that you belong to so much so that you don’t want to be around each other? (Genius).
Those attending this Los Angeles meeting are there to find support and explanation. During his speech, Malcolm X says what these people want to listen. He also dedicates his speech to the problem of women’s protection. He says that women suffer the gravest consequences of discriminatory practices. He tells the audience that: “The most disrespected woman in America, is the black woman. The most un-protected person in America is the black woman. The most neglected person in America, is the black woman” (Genius). At this point he promotes Islam by mentioning that it is the men’s duty to protect their women. These words also fall within the audiences’ interest and needs. They seek to listen to Malcolm’s arguments.
3. Did the speech take into account the cultural complexity of its audience?
I did not think that Malcolm X’s speech took the cultural complexity of his audience into consideration. Although people in the room are mainly African-American Muslims, they are not the only minorities inspired by Malcolm X’s activity. Some of the African-Americans are Christians, others may be other religions or even atheists. If Malcolm addresses mainly Muslims, which he did in this speech, then there is a high likelihood that he will lose credit among people with different cultural backgrounds. The audience is normally culturally complex and diverse, and to that end, the speaker needs to take this into account rather than stick to one religious or cultural group, whether it is his on or not. If this does not happen, then the desired outcome will not be achieved. In my view, I believe that the cultural complexity of the audience is neglected due to Malcolm X’s failure to have sufficient appreciation for non-blacks and those who are non-Muslims.
4. Was the message clear and well structured?
I found that Malcolm X’s message was clear and well-structured, and think that he had taken a long time to prepare it. It came right from the heart, and was designed to convince people that their skin color is not the root of their problems or a characteristic to feel ashamed about. Malcolm X accuses white people of misconduct, discrimination, and the creation of a false reality in which blacks have no rights. He also uses statistical data to back elements of what he is saying, and to make it sound more persuasive. For example: he states that whites represent just 1/5th of the population and asks how these “minorities” can conquer them. He then stresses the effectiveness of the segregation practices that whites use to defeat blacks. And says that due to these occurrences, African-Americans forget their language, their history, and their cultural heritage. This knowledge goes a long way in emphasizing the importance of unity in the black community. It also stresses the value of their struggle against their oppressors. This message is clearly articulated throughout the speech, and brings African-Americans of all faiths into accord.
5. Was the language and presentation of the speech effective?
I thought that the language and presentation of the speech were very effective. Malcolm X uses credible sources which can be referenced. These include Muhammad’s teachings and government statistics. While speaking of the “normality” of the criminal pasts of black people, Malcolm X reminds everyone about famous African-American leaders such as James Farmer and Martin Luther King, both of whom had also been sent to jail. And to sound even more persuasive, he also also reminds the audience about various historical events. This adds credibility to the speech. He also uses pronoun “you” to establish a personal connection with his audience. Active gestures allow Malcolm to sound lively and keep a personal animated contact with people. Further, his language is rather simple. He does not use difficult terminology, so everyone, even the illiterate, can understand him. Also, he only mentions historical figures and events which are well known.
6. How did listeners respond both during and after the speech?
As Malcolm X successfully established a good rapport and contact with his audience, he received an excellent response. Active applause indicates the listeners’ proactive involvement in his speech. Every person sitting in the room revisited their own history and personal pain and suffering in Malcolm X’s words. In the middle of this speech, they start participating in the discussion, concurring what is being said. At the end of the speech there was a rapturous applause. This shows that Malcolm X achieved the audience’s engagement with the discussion.
7. Did the speaker demonstrate responsible knowledge and a careful use of communication techniques?
I believe that Malcolm X demonstrated responsible knowledge as he used sources such as statistics and religious Koranic verses which can be verified. He also used effective communication to achieve the desired effect. All three rhetorical modes (ethos, pathos, and logos) appear in his speech, with logos being given special emphasis. Malcolm X uses logos when he discusses the problem of criminal records among black people, the problem of black women, and the fierce oppression on the part of the white people. Within the speech, pathos has been used several times. Malcolm X reminds his audience that black people are fed up after having being illegally deprived of their human rights. Then, pathos is used to stress the unity of black people who overcame all their religious and political differences to act as one. Malcolm X’s gestures and voice also come across as effective communication techniques. During the most frantic episodes, Malcolm raises his voice. All of these attributes make the speech lively and catchy.
8. Did the speaker show proper concern for the impact of the message on
I feel that Malcolm X showed proper concern for the impact of his message on his audience. He put a great deal of effort into persuading the audience that the unity of African-American people and the defeat of white people will help them to survive. The audience appears convinced that there is no other solution than to have an all out fight against their oppressors. The more aspects that Malcolm X discusses, the stronger the reaction and effect on the audience. Their feeling of being uplifted and their engagement with his words becomes more and more evident throughout the speech. To that end, if Malcolm X’s goal was to inspire hatred between African-Americans and white people, then his goal was successfully accomplished.
Malcolm X’s speech comes across as highly persuasive and exciting. It dares to speak of positive change that is long over due for those who’s only crime appears to be having a black skin. And although he does not build a very strong ethos, he still manages to generate unlimited inspiration. He also succeeds in having extremely close contact with his audience. He effectively uses language and communication techniques while addressing his listeners. This speech addresses the community in general and every individual in particular. In the speech, every black individual can find small pieces of his own personal story. This fact has made a great impact on his audience, convincing them that unity and a fighting spirit will put an end to their immense suffering and discrimination.
- Genius. “Who Taught You To Hate Yourself? Malcolm X.” N.d., https://genius.com/Malcolm-x-who-taught-you-to-hate-yourself-annotated#note-4039511 Accessed 11 April 2017.