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What Disney’s “The Color Friendship” Taught Me About Race and Tolerance

Growing up in the 90’s pop culture introduced me to a variety of fun movies but also home-hitting ones as well. Disney Channel Original Movies had a diverse collection of flicks for kids that were both fictional fun and home-hitting realism. Disney offered films that often had black actors cast as leads and supporting characters. More importantly, Disney told stories that brought racial discussions to the fold. One of those was the 2000 flick “The Color of Friendship.”

The film is  based on true events. taking place in 1977. Piper, a young black teenager who is the daughter of an outspoken Congressman Ron Dellums, befriends a South African exchange student named Mahree Bok. The two form a friendship despite having misconstrued ideas about each other’s societies and Piper’s father being strongly against South Africa’s apartheid system. It’s unfortunate that Disney does not air this film as much anymore because I believe the film can be educational for younger audiences with today’s racial tensions spreading across the country due to police brutality and politics.

I want to look back on the film that introduced me to the concept of race tensions and tolerance. So here are three things I learned from Disney’s The Color of Friendship.

1. It’s important to have friends from many walks of life, despite our differences.

What I love about The Color of Friendship is the hope of racial harmony it illustrates. Initially, a very disappointed Piper thought Mahree would be black. Mahree didn’t think America had any black politicians. With the help of Piper’s mother, Piper realizes she was being judgemental. After a getting over the culture shock, Mahree decides to stay in America to give the family a shot rather return to South America like her father, policeman Pieter Bok, believed she would.

The two girls continue to spend time together getting to know each other’s culture from the other’s perspective, which only deepened their friendship. Growing up in a dominate white neighborhood myself, it was nice to see that how people to get along with one another even if their backgrounds are different. Having friends from various backgrounds gives us a chance to learn more about each other’s experiences. It also gives us an opportunity to learn more about ourselves, even our own prejudices we may have towards other groups of people. The flick showed that with patience and understanding, the world can be more tolerant. But like Piper and Mahree, you have to want to make it work. It’s worth it.

2. We can not afford to be color blind.


This film did an excellent job at demonstrating that not everybody is the same and race/ethnicity needs to be acknowledged if we are going to get anywhere past racial injustices in this country and abroad. The film dealt with race issues in a real way, including featuring foul words used at the time to illustrate how black people were belittled in both U.S and South Africa.  The death of South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko nearly pulls the two girls apart due to a misunderstanding on Mahree’s end, which angers Piper. Mahree learns from Piper’s father about the history of the U.S’s long issue regarding black oppression and that is not far off from the problems facing in her country. While it may be lovely for a young person to go about looking at people without noticing race, it is not realistic as you get older, especially being black. The film made me see that as much as I would like to, I can not be blinded to race like I was when I was a kid. I’m still treated differently because of my race at times, even though I was raised in a Californian middle-class society. Now as an adult, I realize there are others (black or any person of color) who face worse problems than me that get more complex than a zip code. By recognizing the institutional racism and the communities it affects, we can do something to end it.

3. The Importance of knowing black history.

What is great to admire about Piper is during her teenage years she took an interest in  different cultures but also continued to learn more about her own at a time when racism was still very prevalent. Mahree did the same thing, though it took Ron Dellums to show her a little book called “Roots” to help her understand U.S’s history of race and connecting it to the apartheid system in South Africa, including being nearly forced to return home to South Africa when the U.S learns of Steve Biko’s assassination. The film reminds me that as an African-American woman I should know America’s ugly timeline of racial oppression and take note of racial tensions in other nations. I may not have been able to fully grasp this as a kid, which is fine because my southern parents raised me to treat everyone with love and respect regardless of race. Today, I still uphold those values as I continue to make friends from a variety backgrounds. That being said, the sooner you have a better understanding of black history the more woke you will be.



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