‘X’ Marks the Spot

09 Mar ‘X’ Marks the Spot

A Public Speaker, Past or Present, should always be celebrated for they communicate to us in words that cannot be ignored. In public speaking, as in any form of communication, there are five basic elements, often expressed as “who is saying what to whom using what medium with what effects?” The purpose of public speaking can range from simply transmitting information, to motivating people to act, to simply telling a story.

Public speaking have several components that embrace such things as motivational speaking, leadership/personal development, business, customer service, large group communication, and mass communication. It is a powerful tool to use for purposes such as motivation, influence, persuasion, informing, translation, or simply ethos.

With that said, I would like to look at one of my powerful public speaker who is none other than Malcom x.

All credits go to one of my most promising student, Paulette Mbeya who with my guidance of writing a good speech was able to articulate about Malcom X. The speech was intended to heighten a past public speaker. She is a public speaker of a generation and I am glad I have been part of her journey to discover her potential.

……remember that Malcolm X visited Kenya in 1959!

Here is what she wrote:

“The price of freedom is death. It is a time for martyrs now, and if I am to be one, it will be for the cause of brotherhood. That’s the only thing that can save this country”.

Communication is the basis of humanity. Our words have the power to make or break a society, to set out a blueprint for history and culture. Quotes are a permanent reminder of the great words of those our society can never forget, and public speakers, both contemporary and ancient, have the unique task of inspiring a generation.

In the face of the American civil rights movement, perhaps the most forgotten name that is nonetheless a silent pillar of strength is the life and words of Malcolm X. Malcolm X’s Way of communicating was remarkably precise, without all of the unnecessary trappings of pretty words that add colour to the spoken word, but ultimately lacks depth. It is the brutality behind the words of Malcolm, the unashamed frankness of his thoughts that then permeated his speech that fascinates not just I, but all of those who ever hope to be great in whatever sphere of influence we choose.

Following the 1962 march on Washington and Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, Malcolm X said this:

“Who ever heard of angry revolutionaries all harmonising ‘we shall overcome… someday’ while tripping and swaying arm-in-arm with the very people they were supposed to be angrily revolting against? Who ever heard of angry revolutionists swinging their bare feet together with their oppressors in lily-pad park pools, with gospels and guitars and ‘I have a dream’ speeches? And the Black masses in America were, and are, still having a nightmare”.

          It is the blunt outspokenness of Malcolm and the deliberately antagonising method of his speech and delivery that not only shocked his audience, it captured their attention. Your attention is arguably the most prized possession that you inherently own that you can then give to a person, albeit momentarily. Malcolm X established himself as a phenomenal public speaker because his style and delivery were so controversial and powerful, you had no choice but to surrender your attention and listen to the manipulative voice that stirred feelings of unity and togetherness and an almost righteous indignation within you. The blunt method of Malcolm’s speech and the almost sarcastic undertones behind it were for more than just entertainment and to engage his audience: it wasn’t designed to trivialise the plight of the Black man, but to exult it and showcase it in a way that left the audience willing to do more than just strive for freedom… It was designed to create energy and stir up action amongst the impoverished Black masses.

The content of Malcolm X’s speeches, not just the method of delivery, was full of figurative language that asked more questions than they answered. Malcolm X said this concerning Africans in America:

“I’m not going to sit at your table and watch you eat, with nothing on my plate, and call myself a diner. Sitting at the table doesn’t make you a diner, unless you eat some of what’s on that plate. Being here in America does not make you and American… No, I’m not an American; I’m one of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of Americanism. One of the 22 million Black people who are the victims of democracy, nothing but disguised hypocrisy… I’m speaking as a victim of this American system. And I see America through the eyes of a victim. I don’t see any American Dream; I see an American nightmare.”

          Racism is still a topic that is whispered in hushed undertones, privately acknowledged as a social evil but publically ignored or swept under the carpet in favour of less contentious, heated topics. This is the case in the 21st Century; imagine the metaphoric minefield that racism as a topic was in the 1950s and 1960s. The forwardness and brutal honesty of segregation was the main focus of Malcolm X’s ideals, and the same was reflected in the content of his public addresses.

This is perhaps the complete opposite of contemporary public speakers. The passion and almost heedless disregard for social convention is palpable in the content of Malcolm X’s speeches. These two aspects are distinctly lacking in contemporary public speakers, where caution and political correctness governs all that society says and does to the extent that professing one’s personal views in the aggressive way that is characteristic of Malcolm X is seen as radical or extreme. But it is these theatrical opinions that defy the norm that made the content of Malcolm X’s speeches phenomenal: unlike most, he spoke of the heart of the problem, and did not sugar coat his words. It is this brutal honest that society is so averse to, but as a public speaker makes you great, should you acknowledge the beauty that lies in simplicity and, makes those around you aware of the honest truth.

Malcolm X incorporated subtle linguistic techniques and word play that drew his in audience in hook, line and sinker. The flow of the content and the style of most of his speeches were such that contrast made his arguments more striking, more interesting. Democracy is Hypocrisy; the American Dream is really a living nightmare…. Malcolm X continually and blatantly challenged what everyone believed in the content of his public addresses. The questions Malcolm raised within his speeches and through the almost mocking style of his delivery encouraged deeper thought and even more questions to be asked, with the demand for answers increasing. Malcolm X captured not just the attention of his audience, but their minds. Once he had their minds, he could control their thinking, manipulate their actions. The most important feature a great orator can have is their ability to suck their audience and leave them thinking, nothing more. Once you have achieved this, then you know your worlds have made an impact, one way or the other.

Malcolm X continued to speak about the march on Washington in 1962, saying:

“If I have a cup of coffee that is too strong for me because it is too black, I weaken it by pouring cream into it. I integrate it with cream. If I keep pouring enough cream in the coffee, pretty soon the entire flavour of the coffee is changed; the very nature of the coffee is changed. If enough cream is poured in, eventually you don’t even know that I had coffee in this cup. This is what happened with the March on Washington. The whites didn’t integrate it; they infiltrated it. Whites joined it; they engulfed it; they became so much a part of it, it lost its original flavour. It ceased to be a black march; it ceased to be militant; it ceased to be angry; it ceased to be impatient. In fact, it ceased to be a march.”

X marks the spot. The precision behind the words used by Malcolm X and the powerful, almost angry mode of delivery used by Malcolm X is uncanny, and left his audience certain of his views and ideals. The word play and imagery that likened the universal suffrage of the Black people to everyday phenomena was brilliant in its angry and vehement simplicity. It is this simple use of language that ignited curiosity that was Malcom’s forte, and even now his legacy lives on as a powerful, if occasionally forgotten, orator.

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