White Charity


W.E.B. Du Bois


June 1, 1922

Throughout the United States are numberless charities—schools, homes, hospitals and orphanages,—supported wholly or in part by white donors for the benefit of Negroes. As the Negroes have accumulated more means and become more self-assertive, the tendency has been for white givers to reduce their gifts or discontinue their interest entirely, putting many worthy and useful, indeed indispensable, institutions in grave distress.

The motives for this withdrawal of help are various: many charitable folk have been left straitened by the war and the new rich have not learned charity. Other folks think that Negroes are now rich enough to help themselves; while not a few others resent the Negroes’ new tone and demands so deeply that they say: Very well, help yourselves and make no more appeals to us!

These last two classes are ill-advised. The Negro is still a poor, a very poor group and cannot support the social reform, and eleemosynary work which he needs for social uplift. Moreover his great bond to the rich and powerful has been their charity—if they break this bond they break the last tie that holds him in leash. This may be best in time, but for them is it wise now? Is it wise for white folk to forget that no amount of alms­ giving on their part will half repay the 300 years of unpaid toil and the fifty years of serfdom by which the black man has piled up wealth and comfort for white America?

It would be a wiser and more far-sighted attitude today for white America to insist on paying back this debt which they owe to black America as a privilege—as a great peace-offering for wrong—rather than petulantly to vent their spleen on the sick, the degraded and the young for the growing self-assertion of the well, the risen and the old.

On our part the way is clear: the sooner we rise above charity, the sooner we shall be free.


For attribution, please cite this work as:
Du Bois, W.E.B. 1922. “White Charity.” The Crisis 24 (2): 57. https://www.dareyoufight.org/Volumes/24/02/whitecharity.html.