Some of My Best Friends Are ...
Sally and Johnny must be the coolest white couple around. They claim to have figured out the secret recipe for being "down" with African Americans and they've got a Web site loaded with pictures to prove it.
Just visit blackpeopleloveus.com and you'll find the preppy duo chilling with their impressive posse of black friends. From raising the roof to slapping high fives, Sally and Johnny know what it takes to win the friendship and adoration of blacks.
Sound like a crock? Well, it is.
Sally and Johnny are the fictional stars of a satirical site aimed at exposing some of the patronizing and condescending ways some whites attempt to relate to blacks.
Chelsea and Jonah Peretti, the brother-sister team who created the site, say they're surprised at how quickly the project has taken off.
"It really strikes people in a strong way," said Chelsea, a 24-year-old New York stand-up comedian who wrote all of the site's content. "It's self implicating. A lot of people come to the site and are laughing at first, but then they realize they've said or done some of the things we're exposing."
In addition to the photos featured throughout the site, "testimonials" from Sally and Johnny's black friends illustrate why the couple is so loved.
"Sally loves to touch my hair," shares one women sporting dreadlocks. "She always asks me how I got my hair to do this. That makes me feel special. Like I have magical powers!"
In another testimonial, a young black man writes, "Johnny is generous enough to remark upon how 'articulate' I am! That makes me feel good!"
The site's approach has some visitors in fits of laughter and others fired up in anger, sparking renewed dialogue about the ever-sensitive subjects of racism, white privilege and race relations.
"Thanks for such a great satire," writes one man who identifies himself as a Chinese American. "So many folks don't even realize that racism doesn't just come in big, violent moments. It happens all the time in the form of presumably well-meaning, but totally patronizing, behavior... Thanks for a site that really helps me laugh about something that usually just ruins my day."
Not everyone is so thankful.
"You guys are the biggest bunch of... idiots I've ever seen," writes a black person who doesn't think Sally and Johnny are so cool. "You know nothing about the history and don't connect with black people on a level of humanity, but rather on the basis of race. Get a book and a clue too."
Chelsea and Jonah say they aren't bothered by the wide range of reactions to blackpeopleloveus.com. In fact, they say getting people to discuss and think critically about issues of race is exactly what they set out to do.
"We wanted to make people think about how they're interacting," said Chelsea. "Instead of creating something saying 'You are or aren't a racist,' we wanted to say 'Have you ever said any of these things to anyone?' It's the dialogue the site is starting that is important."
Chelsea and Jonah, who are white, have received a fair amount of flack for not disclosing their names or race on the site. Jonah, a 28-year-old Manhattan-based Web designer and adjunct professor of digital design, says they didn't see a need to do either.
"The whole idea is that when people enter the site, they go through the critical thought process," he said. "We weren't trying to hide our race. We were just trying to present an important issue in the form of satire, and we wanted it to appear homemade by Sally and Johnny."
The two say growing up they saw firsthand many of the assumptions and behaviors exposed on their site. And they say it was their stepmother, a black woman, who often taught them to fight back with humor.
"The four of us would go out to dinner and the maitre d' would ask if we needed a table for three. He automatically assumed she wasn't with us," recalled Jonah.
"Our stepmother was a very witty and opinionated person," added Chelsea. "When things like that happened, she wouldn't react with anger, but she always had a witty or thoughtful remark or comeback."
This isn't the first time the Peretti siblings have combined technology and humor to tackle social issues.
Jonah garnered more than his 15 minutes of fame last year after visiting the Nike Web site and requesting a pair of customized sneakers inscribed with the word "sweatshop."
Nike refused and what followed was a series of email exchanges between Peretti and the company that ultimately reached hundreds of thousands of people through email forwards and led to a "Today" show debate between Peretti and a Nike executive.
The brother-sister duo also received national publicity for their next project, the Rejection Line, a phone number to hand out to unwanted suitors.
Blackpeopleloveus.com is certainly the Perettis' most potentially far-reaching project. Launched just two months ago, the site has already seen more than 1 million visitors.
Chelsea and Jonah say although they have been criticized for taking up what some perceive to be a "black issue" and also for attempting to "speak for blacks," they want people to know race is everyone's issue.
"In the end, it's not just about getting white people to think, but about all people thinking about whether they're being patronizing to people who are different from them," said Chelsea. "If we all leave race and other serious issues for someone else to handle, that's not a way to move forward."
Dana Williams is a staff writer at Tolerance.org.