I'll never forget the encounter I had after moving into my predominantly black neighborhood eight years ago. I was chatting on the sidewalk with a neighbor who confided to me how happy she was to find out the newcomers to the block (me and my husband) were white. The kicker: She is black.

I still don't quite know how to feel about those sentiments. We've won the neighborhood beautification contest several years in a row, so hopefully we are living up to her expectations, But trust me, girlfriend, white people aren't all they're cracked up to be.

And I should know. After growing up in a lily-white suburb with a total of two black kids in my 1,800-plus-student high school (neither of them in my class), I now live in an urban neighborhood that is about 80% black. It's solidly middle-class, so that's not different, but there are some definite cultural nuances you just don't get in the suburbs. And even once you're here, you still don't "get" some of it. So I decided to check out upscale, which I found at the grocery store.

Upscale says it's geared toward those who are "Living the affluent lifestyle." Founded in 1989 by Bernard Bronner, the monthly's nationwide circulation averages about 181,000, with most of its readers in New York and Atlanta.

Bronner and his family are perhaps best known for Bronner Bros. hair products and their annual trade show in their home state of Georgia which attracts some 100,000 attendees. That helps explain the promotion on the magazine's Web site offering free Bronner Bros. hair products with a subscription. I've been offered a lot of free stuff in my life, but never hair products. Still, there are many ads in the magazine for non-Bronner Bros. hair care products (including Mane 'n Tail, a favorite of my mother-in-law). There's also editorial space devoted to promoting still more hair care products, none of which are advertised in the magazine.

I'm always on the lookout for the blurring of that sacred line between editorial and advertising. This issue of upscale is almost devoid of crossover, with the exception of an ad in the back in the magazine for The Cleaner, a colon cleansing product, which is also mentioned in an article about colon cleansing in the front of the magazine. But the balanced article includes doctors stating both the pros and cons of the practice, so a tip of the hat to the writer.

The magazine bills itself as "the ultimate lifestyle magazine that addresses the needs of the most stylish and educated African-American. A place to find the latest in arts, beauty, fashion, news and views. A place to be empowered and inspired to live loudly and learn smartly and to embrace life with passion."

Content is divided into sections under the headings of features, style, headlines, update, uprising, upmarket, uplifting, living and spotlight. There's a helpful graphic on the contents page with a small shot of the cover and page numbers pointing to each of the story blurbs. Nothing is more irksome than buying a magazine for one or more of the cover stories only to have to search and search to find it buried in the book.

Maybe I'm not your typical white gal, but I'm pretty certain most of the articles would appeal to a reader of any race or ethnicity. Some make no mention of race, while others are generally mainstream but may have an aside directed toward the reader, assumed to be black. Like the thoughtful article about couples counseling, which specifically addresses the problems some black men might have in entering therapy due to their "bravado and hypermasculinity."

A clever feature about movies has a collection of mainstream titles, each with an accompanying smaller, independent movie that a fan of the first might appreciate. The intro suggests readers "check out a few of our favorites and go ahead and make it a blackbuster night." Funny thing is, I've seen just about every one of the mainstream movies and several of the indies, too.

The cover story, an interesting read, features Lynn Whitfield and Marvin Winans, stars of the upcoming movie "Mama, I Want To Sing." Whitfield has managed to escape what the author described as the "chitlin circuit" which many African American actresses get stuck in. There also are short profiles of other high-profile blacks which are quick and interesting reads. I learned that former college and pro football player James DuBose was the mastermind producer behind one of my all-time-favorite guilty-pleasure TV shows: "Blind Date."

And I loved catching up on Kamaal Ibn John Fareed, better known to music lovers as Q-Tip -- who was a founder of A Tribe Called Quest, a socially conscious '90s-era rap trio. The writer asks him a handful of questions about his musical tastes, his hair and his fashion sensibilities. When asked if he has any fashion addictions, he forthrightly replies: "I'm a sneaker pimp. I have like 600 pairs of sneakers."

Hey, maybe the races -- and the genders - aren't that far apart after all.


Published by: UPSCALE Communications
Publishing Frequency: Monthly
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