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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

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What is the meaning of "charity" in Chapter 18 of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings?

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In Chapter 18, the minister speaks about the meaning of "charity" from the book of First Corinthians in the Bible.

He tells his congregation that charity never allows the wealthy and privileged to oppress the poor. Essentially, the wealthy here are presumably the white plantation owners or any white person who aims to oppress the black community. The minister maintains that "charity" is not patronizing or abusive:

"Charity don't go around saying 'I give you food and I give you clothes and by rights, you ought to thank me.'... Charity don't say, ' Because I give you a job, you got to bend your knee to me.'...It don't say, ' Because I pays you what you due, you got to call me master.' It don't ask me to humble myself and belittle myself. That ain't what Charity is."

The minister and his congregation believe that charity is "simple," "poor," and "plain." Basically, in this chapter, "charity" is interpreted to mean the long-suffering patience and love of the black community in the face of persecution and oppression. The minister assures his black congregation that they will be "the only inhabitants of that land of milk and honey." (essentially, Heaven). The only white inhabitants would consist of the likes of "John Brown who history books said was crazy anyway." Essentially, the charitable are those who will endure suffering with great forbearance, in exchange for the ultimate reward at the end of their lives.

They basked in the righteousness of the poor and the exclusiveness of the downtrodden. Let the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly – mostly – let them have their whiteness.  It was better to be meek and lowly, spat upon and abused for this little time than to spend eternity frying in the fires of Hell.

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