Award Name

First-Year Award Winner

Author Information

Carmen Sherlock, Scripps

Award Date



The jeremiad is a rhetorical strategy found in countless fields—including the speeches of Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King, Jr.—which laments a society’s current situation and calls for a return to the essentially good principles upon which it was founded. Some scholars have argued that the rhetoric of Malcolm X employs this strategy; however, through an analysis of his speech The Ballot or the Bullet, I argue that it in fact does the opposite: he uses the anti-jeremiad, a rhetorical pattern that fundamentally renounces the dominant ideals of, in this case, the twentieth-century United States. I reach this conclusion from an analysis of his ironic treatment of the notion of victimhood, specifically exploring the implications of his use of the word “chump” and examining how this assigns a peculiar responsibility, and thus agency, to his audience, reinforcing his anti-jeremiad call for intentional separation and Black Nationalism. I later consider studies of such self- and group-labeling and label reclamation, which have found that, for example, the reclamation of victimhood actually diminishes the stigma attached to that label and greatly increases a community’s perception of its own power.

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