The Problem with Charity

A few months ago, the blogger Tami, wrote a blog post on Feministe that got me thinking. The post was entitled “Marginalized folks shouldn’t always have to be “the bigger persons’.” Tami argued that in situations where someone is being racist, the recipient of that -ism has the right to be angry and upset—one can’t always be so nice and gently let the other person know they are in fact, being a jerk.

Which brings me to my mom.

My mom volunteers at a charity that assists low income mothers. We were discussing her experiences one day when she said, “Some women are so thankful for our help. Others not so much. They ask, ‘Oh can I have this top in blue?” “Oh, I don’t like this.’ What do you mean you don’t like the color?! It’s free! Working there makes me more of a Republican.”

Yikes.

Anyway, why can’t a low income person say they don’t like something? I mean, just because they’re low income doesn’t mean they don’t have a personality. Why do they even have to be thankful? Isn’t clean clothes a right, not a privilege? Why do low income people have to be the “bigger persons”? As Tami might say.

Which brings me to my aunt.

My aunt was telling me a story about her friend. This friend got pregnant very young–her partner and she didn’t have a lot of money. When times were tough, she put her kids before herself. So, later, when her kids were grown and they were much better off, she wanted to help people like her former self. So she signed up to bring holidays fixings to families in need. The experience didn’t turn out as she expected. The first family she visited had a new flat screen TV, the men of the family were all having a beer while the mom and kid hid in the back. I can’t remember the details of the second family, but that experience left her similarly enraged. She sacrificed so that she could give her kids a better life–to her, these people didn’t deserve a Christmas dinner according to her values.

I thought it was ironic that she was bringing them a holiday dinner. I mean, Christmas dinner isn’t some kind of reward for sacrificing. And if you really want to help out the family, why don’t you get the person in question a better job? Pay for their child’s education? Or better yet, pay for their healthcare? You know, the stuff that matters. The stuff that’s expensive and necessary.

But that’s not going to make you feel better, does it? Paying for healthcare isn’t sexy, while paying for Christmas dinner is. And that’s the problem with Charity. Charity isn’t about making yourself feel good. While, of course, there’s nothing wrong with feeling good about helping someone—-when that someone disappoints and that makes you angry, well then, you know you weren’t helping because you thought it was a right, you were doing it to please yourself.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted March 7, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

    I suppose some people would reserve charity only for those who are so desperate for anything that they would deny their identity or feelings to receive a gift. Unfortunately with this approach, the recipients of charity may not get what they really want or even need in order to achieve good outcomes. Even when it comes to matters of want, giving someone something unnecessarily substandard can provide a distraction that interferes with normal functioning, and just like any inconsiderate gift, it generally serves the gratification of the giver.

    However, the latter example is somewhat more understandable. While there are more effective uses of one’s effort than to provide a Christmas dinner (which excludes non-Christians), one may regard owning a flat-screen TV and drinking beer as luxuries. Granted, just about any new TV today is flat-screen, reasonably-sized ones are very affordable, and sometimes items of this nature are given as gifts, so it seems quite reasonable for even a poor family to own one — but your aunt’s friend may not have this understanding of technology and its advancements. A little education would help your aunt’s friend here.

  2. jen157
    Posted April 13, 2011 at 4:49 am | Permalink

    Some people just have their priorities a little messed up. It’s not that she was thinking of herself when she brought the dinner it’s just that hey, maybe they shouldn’t have a flatscreen tv…

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