Good humanitarian organizations make sure the people they help retain their dignity. They have listened to people who have experienced poverty, and know that feelings of shame and helplessness are some of the worst parts of being poor. 
Humanitarians do not always show this consideration though. Many of them take an aloof attitude towards the people whom they intended to help. Anzia Yezierska’s novel Arrogant Beggar demonstrates how an elitist mentality sometimes sullied charitable work in the early twentieth century. Class was certainly a factor in this attitude, but ethnic identity could also play a part. Yezierska was a Jewish immigrant who lived in New York City at the end of the nineteenth century. She hoped to improve her circumstances by living in a boarding house, but learned the hard way that this had its drawbacks. She saw that the women who benefitted from these houses were not always treated with dignity. Years later, after Yezierska’s position in society had improved considerably, boarding houses still had middle- and upper-class matrons who gave distant, condescending treatment to the women who lived in them. Yezierska decided to reveal the unpleasant side of boarding houses by writing Arrogant Beggar. 
The protagonist of Arrogant Beggar is Adele Lindner, a young woman who shares a common background with Yezierska. Lindner is initially enthusiastic about life in a settlement house, as it provides considerably more security and comfort than her old tenement home. Lindner becomes more cynical after she sees how her benefactors view her and the other girls. They are projects, spoken about in financial terms and kept at a distance. Wealthy matrons and their families spurn any attempts at friendship made by their young benefactors. Needy immigrant woman receive funding cuts from ladies who hold a meeting over a luxurious lunch.  Yet Lindner’s change in attitude does not come quickly. She is torn between gratitude at the help she’s received, and anger at the superiority complexes of her benefactors. 
Eventually, Lindner decides that she no longer wants to be dependent on rich, established families. She leaves the boarding house, but struggles to find her way. She ends up back in a tenement, where an elderly woman named Muhmenkeh takes her in. Muhmenkeh teaches Lindner how to show love to her neighbors, and Lindner decides to carry on Muhmenkeh’s legacy after she dies. She opens a restaurant, and runs it in an unconventional manner: customers pay what they can afford. This restaurant not only provides food to the needy, but becomes a focal point for the community. Lindner is thus able to find her own way to both prosper and help others. She no longer has to face the indignity of being a charity case. 
Americans are proud of how their country can give new opportunities to poor immigrants. Arrogant Beggar confronts some uncomfortable realities about these opportunities, though . One easily overlooked aspect of alturism is that cultural differences can come into play with negative repercussions. Yezierska leaves the ethnicity of the boarding house matrons ambiguous, but they are probably either Anglo-Americans or German Jews. Either way, they run the boarding house according to rules that make sense in their culture. This has consequences for the women in the house. They are mostly Slavic Jews, Italians, Poles, or Irish. When they turn to the boarding house for help, they are suddenly in a different cultural environment than the tenements. They have to lose their culture to improve their circumstances.
On a more personal level, charity can often be less altruistic than we realize. It is easy to dispense food, clothing, and even jobs to those who need it. Such help allows for an assuaged conscience, and lets the native-born haves lecture the newly arrived have-nots on exactly how to act if they want to move up the ladder. It is entirely less convenient, and comfortable, to give disadvantaged people, immigrants or not, what they need on their own terms. This requires us to trust their judgment calls over our own. It may require more sacrifice than we’d like to make. Or it may require more humility than expected. Some impoverished people, like Lindner, only need the right inspiration to rise out of their circumstances. They hardly give well-off individuals a chance to feel good about themselves for helping someone in need. True humanitarians will recognize this, and accept it. After all, if shame and helplessness are the worst parts of poverty, then isn’t empowerment the best way to combat it?
 Richard Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2010), 118-119.
 Katherine Stubbs, “Introduction,” in Arrogant Beggar by Anzia Yezierska (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), vii-ix.
 Anzia Yezierska, Arrogant Beggar (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1996), 1-68.
 Yezierska, 52-54.
 Yezierska, 88-149.