Guests of the Inner Sanctum

Carolyn Edgar: Give Up the Negro Improvement Plan!

I may be one to make light of heavy situations–that’s my schtick and I’m sticking to it!

But today’s post is different.

This is an online intervention for someone who is very dear to me. Roughly 12 years ago, my friend Katrina (not her real name) met a sexy, handsome, chocolate man, over six feet tall with swagga for days. One problem though: when they met, he was doing time in jail for an armed felony. But he showered her with attention, and he promised he was a changed man. He’d found God. He loved her son and promised to be his surrogate father just as soon as he served up his time.

Fast-foward. Thug-fo-life gets released, and the first thing he does is whip it on her in the bedroom, jailbird style. Katrina and the “newly reformed” felon make a life and get married.

I voiced my concerns about Thug-fo-life only once. I was still dating my now-husband, who happens to be white, when I made THE CALL. I asked her straight up why a solid middle class, college-educated, BEAUTIFUL black woman would settle for Thug-fo-life when I knew FOR A FACT that educated, thoughtful and enlightened men across the melanin rainbow expressed serious interest in dating her.

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Of COURSE he makes you feel like the only woman in the world: because while his arse is locked up, YOU ARE!

When she called and told me she was engaged to TFL, I asked point blank: “Katrina, you know I love you, but are you sure you’re not just settling?”

…then she reached through the phone, from over 150 miles away, and punched me in the face. “How DARE you be so JUDGMENTAL! I feel like I don’t even know you anymore!!!”

So that was it. I wasn’t going to say one more day-um thing, because to be honest, I wanted her to feel like I could be a soft place to fall when “the fit hit the sham.”

Boy did it hit.

While well-behaved and frontin’ for a time, his first strike came in the form of cheating on her with some trollop while Katrina was holding vigil over their first child who had to be hospitalized for a time after birth. He did it again at least two more times, and gave her a sexually transmitted infection not ONCE, but TWICE.

Other violations: he unapologetically blasts cuss riddled and n-word peppered rap music in front of their kids, smokes weed, expects Katrina to cook, clean the house, take care of the kids all after she has worked her ass off at her 8-10 hour day job because Hey! He’s a ‘REAL’ man and all that is women’s work. A “man” just sits home all day, smokes weed and plays Nintendo.

Like most black women, Katrina, a dedicated Christian, goes to church while her man stays home. Worn out, tired, twenty pounds heavier and miserable as she could be, she’s asked for advice and counsel from the clergy. NOW, she says, she’s just “waiting on a sign from God” before she kicks his trifling, pot-moking, sex-disease giving, cheating-while-his-baby-is- in-the-hospital ASS TO THE CURB!

Well I for one think God often speaks through his people. He hasn’t done a burning bush since Moses.

So I’m bringing in the big guns. Carolyn Edgar, Harvard-trained attorney, master tweeter and blogger, and single mother of two children, wrote an article, Upgrade Him? Girl No, where she advises women to give up the “Beauty & The Beast” nonsense:

Upgrade Him? Girl, No.

By Carolyn A. Edgar

I was chatting recently with one of my law school friends about a classmate of ours whose marriage was ending in divorce.

At first I thought it was regular gossip about another seemingly happy marriage falling apart. But as my friend filled in more of the details, I understood it was, instead, yet another example of the Negro Improvement Plan gone wrong.

And as my friend and I are veterans of the Negro Improvement Plan Gone Wrong War, we clucked our tongues and sent up prayers for what we both know lies ahead for this woman in her efforts to divorce her low-income spouse.

“Negro Improvement Plan” is a term coined by my friend Stephanie to describe the phenomenon we began witnessing as one woman after another from our Harvard Law School class partnered up with lower income men. The men were never just the construction workers, secretaries, mailroom guys, etc. they appeared to be. Inevitably, he was “going back to school.” In the rare cases where he wasn’t going back to school, he was starting a business. Or he was a producer – for artists no one had ever heard of.

The Negro Improvement Plan meant there was a plausible and legitimate reason for these Harvard-trained women lawyers to be marrying their Mr. Blue Collars. He was going places. He just needed a boost. And his loyal, loving woman was going to be just the boost he needed to take him where he should go.

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Fight the urge to cage the a wild thug in a suit. They can't be tamed.

When more of us, including Stephanie and me, embarked on our own versions of the Negro Improvement Plan, we didn’t recognize that we had just joined the same club we had been so scornful of.

The Negro Improvement Plan wasn’t always about trying to force the man into some sort of career change. My ex was a construction worker when I met him. I liked the sound of that, and was disappointed he didn’t stay in construction when I moved him into my Brooklyn apartment. He decided he’d rather be working in an office, and I was OK with that, too. I didn’t try to influence his career choices too much.

But from the day he moved to New York until the day he moved out of my Harlem brownstone, I rode him relentlessly for the way he mangled the English language, the fact that his subjects and verbs never agreed and his vocabulary was a bit “too street.” He was a grown man from North Philly who had been speaking like a North Philly gangsta pretty much all his life, and he was very comfortable with how he spoke. His friends were comfortable with how he spoke. I was the only one who had a problem with it. I told myself it was because I wanted my daughter to learn “correct English.” I wasn’t honest enough to admit it was my issue and no one else’s.

I tried to upgrade my ex-husband’s grammar and vocabulary. Other friends tried to upgrade their men similar to Beyonce’s “Upgrade U,” by putting them in Hickey Freeman suits, Pink shirts, Rolex watches and BMWs. They tried to slot their blue collar men into their Pottery Barn worlds of 600-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, towels folded just so, a utensil for every kitchen-related purpose, and Jack and Jill for the children.

Stephanie had once snarked, “I guess he got tired of being bougie,” after one of our classmates’ marriages to a lower-income man fell apart. But, as it turned out, Stephanie’s Negro Improvement Plan was the classic career changing one. She tried to turn her man into a small business owner. The business failed, in part because her partner wasn’t a reliable employee of his own so-called business.

In all cases, including mine, the men enjoyed the perks of the upgrade efforts — the cars, the suits, the trips, the real estate – until they figured out their women expected those changes to be lasting. My ex knew how to speak properly. He was also very well-read. Thanks to my nagging, he would correct his grammar in the presence of our children, but whenever I dragged him to some law firm function, he would reach deep in his storehouse of Ebonics and entertain my law partners, to my horror and frustration. I was furious with him for deliberately fitting neatly into the stereotypes I assumed “they” held of “us.”

Once, I actually listened, and discovered he was carrying on an intelligent conversation, despite the Ebonics, with one of my partners and his wife about U.S. drug enforcement policy. Later, the wife told me, “Your husband is a very smart man.” I never knew if that was a genuine compliment, or if she was surprised to hear rational arguments coming from someone who spoke so poorly, like a dog sitting down to the piano and playing Mozart.

My ex-husband called me controlling, which I resented. In hindsight, I realize most of our issues stemmed from a battle for control. He already felt emasculated by my position and salary. The fact that I would snark on his grammar was probably just a bit too much for him to stomach. Embarrassing me at my law firm functions was his way of getting back at me.

It’s insulting and demoralizing to treat a man like, as my friend @HarlemWriter put it, stray animals or shelter rescues you can return when they soil the rug or chew on your pricey shoes. You can’t change your mate. You are supposed to love your mate as he is. If you can’t do that, you are with the wrong partner. Period.

Bottom line: leave the upgrading to Beyonce.

And for the record, she didn’t have to upgrade her man, either.


Yesterday Carolyn and I talked a bit about the Negro Improvement Plan, and she gave some more perspective and advice for women contemplating, engaging in, and suffering as a result of the NIP.

Take a listen. Carolyn Edgar_blog

NOW IT’S TIME TO ACT. You all know this is no navel-gazing, rub-the-chin pondering sort of place. Before I make the call to Guido and ’em, I NEED ALL OF YOU to chime in who can relate and give the push my friend needs to MOVE THE HELL ON!

Carolyn Edgar’s Blog:

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