I’ve been re-watching Bewitched over the last year, and it’s been a real blast. It was a show I loved as a kid, but you realize as an adult that it was most definitely a product of its time. But yesterday, I got to an episode that personally connected with me… one that left me STUNNED. The year was 1970, the topic was race, and Bewitched called out a racist society in a way that we could take a lesson from today.
Now, before I begin, the reason this resonated with me so much is because I am in an ‘interracial’ marriage. My husband is mixed (and I am white). Regarding his parents, his mother is black while his father is white. They were married in the late 1970s, and they faced hardships I can’t even begin to understand. And even my husband and I received some strange interactions due to our mixed races in the early 2000s in Virginia.
Knowing the struggles that his parents went through in the late 1970s, you can imagine my shock that they gracefully accepted interracial marriage on the show Bewitched and lobbied against racism in the year 1970 in the episode Sisters at Heart. In a quick recap, Samantha and Darrin’s daughter, Tabitha, is having a sleepover with a young black girl. They visit the park, and someone at the park tells them that they can’t be sisters because they’re not the same color. Wishing that they could be the same and, in turn, be sisters, Tabitha accidentally makes spots appear on both girls so that they are both black and white together, thinking this now makes them sisters because they are the same.
Samantha gives a loving speech telling them that just because they don’t look the same doesn’t mean they can’t be sisters. She beautifully states, “Now, sisters are girls who share something.
Usually, the same parents. But if you share other things… good feelings, friendship, love the way you two do, well, that makes you sisters in another way. Actually, all men are brothers, even if they’re girls.”
Throughout the episode, Darrin’s ad agency is trying to win over the account of a businessman. He stops by Darrin’s house to “check him out” prior to allowing him to take his account, and Tabitha’s friend answers the door. The man gets confused and believes that Darrin is in an interracial marriage and that this girl is his daughter. So, he refuses to allow Darrin to work on his account due to what he deems to be an ‘unacceptable marriage’. Later in the episode, he visits their home once again for the Christmas party and realizes his mistake. Once he finds that Darrin is married to a white woman, he says he will accept him working on his account. Larry Tate, Darrin’s boss, recognizes what has happened and in a very endearing (and recognized out-of-character) moment, he tells the man that he won’t accept his account. He actually let a million-dollar account go because he refused to work with a racist.
The episode ends with the man coming back over to confront both the Stephens and the black family who happen to be spending Christmas together. He tells them that he realized he was racist, and he wants to make up for it as he declares, “I’d like to say… to all of you. A peculiar thing happened to me here last night. The equivalent of 20 years on the psychiatrist’s couch. I discovered something about myself. I found out I’m a racist… Oh, not the obvious, out-in-the-open type of racist.
Not me. No, I was a… sneaky racist. I was so sneaky, I didn’t even know it myself.”
In reply, Darrin’s friend says, “A very smart man said: “To adequately define the problem
is the first step toward solving it.”
To which the businessman replies, “Well… I’ve defined it. And I’d like to apologize…”
My husband and I watched with our jaws dropped. This lesson can still be taught today. Not only did they combat racism and in their own way, but they also had someone be casually racist, suffer the consequences for it, realize the error of his way, and make the first steps to try and evolve. It was, honestly, beautiful. Especially knowing the time. I expected less from 1970, and I was incredibly surprised. In fact, when looking more into it, Erin Murphy, who played young Tabitha still raves about the impact that episode had and how much Elizabeth Montgomery loved working on it via this article on fox news here: https://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/bewitched-erin-murphy-sisters-at-heart-racism
And while it may not be as acceptable today due to the fact that they did put the actors in blackface (full warming- Samantha cursed the businessman at one point to teach him a lesson so he saw everyone as the same color- black), it still left a vibrantly powerful message of love and equality included in its celebration of the holiday season.
When looking more into it, I found that the episode was actually written by a group of black students from Jefferson High as stated in this article:
Bewitched producer William Asher and Elizabeth Montgomery (Samantha) invited a class of 22 students to visit their set. As a thank you, the students wrote an episode of the show for fun (with the help of their teacher) and gave it to the couple. In return, Asher and Montgomery actually filmed the episode and credited the entire class as writers for the episode. So, from the mouths of babes doesn’t even begin to describe it. The episode showing the natural, anti-racist state of children and pushing for those anti-racist ideals in adults was, in fact, written by a class of minors. The whole thing, though controversial at its time for being too progressive (for the wrong reasons) was, in fact, for me and my husband, a beautiful surprise.