To the editors:

When you read an article like the one published in “Neighborhood News” (November 5) on racism in a white, liberal organization like Amnesty International, you tend to believe what you read because racism in subtle and not so subtle forms is so pervasive in such organizations. But I was shocked to see Marj Byler named in and villainized by the article. I have known Marj Byler and worked with her in Amnesty International for ten years. She has long been in the forefront of promoting diversity and multilingualism, and of fighting racism within Amnesty International.

One of the unfortunate consequences of litigation is that those involved are always advised not to speak to the media, and so Marj Byler is likely in a position where she is unable to defend herself publicly. The inherent unfairness of these circumstances led me to write this defense, not of Amnesty International but of Marj Byler.

I met Toni Moore once or twice when passing through Chicago. That is also about how well I know Sonia Rosen, the woman hired for the job over Toni Moore. Both Sonia and Toni struck me as ardent human rights activists, and I can easily imagine that a hiring committee would have great difficulty deciding between two such strong candidates.

I was once involved in a similar hiring situation with Marj Byler where two evenly matched candidates, one white and one black, made it to the final stage of selection. Behind closed doors I saw Marj eloquently make the case to others involved in the hiring process for the positive value of diversity within the organization, which in that instance ended up tipping the balance in favor of the candidate of color. Marj Byler persistently challenged the operating assumption of many that candidates with qualifications more like their own were necessarily better candidates.

Marj Byler taught me a lot about recognizing racism and fighting it. If Marj had reservations about working with Toni Moore, it is inconceivable to me that these reservations were race related. The work environment of Amnesty International as I experienced it is such that good people often end up with a bad attitude. I don’t know if this is what happened to Toni Moore, but from your article I sensed a bitterness and hostility spun out of control. Toni Moore is quoted as saying that international experience was not in the job description for Director of the Midwest Region. Anyone who knows the work of Amnesty International would recognize that, particularly in such a high level position, international experience is relevant, in addition to management experience and other factors.

It saddens me to think that tens of thousands of Amnesty International dollars will go into the defense of the lawsuit brought by Toni Moore, rather than into the promotion of diversity and tolerance, or into the fight against torture and the death penalty. I cannot believe that the outcome of this lawsuit, whatever it is, will be constructive, and I urge Toni to consider whether fighting with Marj Byler rather than against her, against racism in Amnesty International, would not be a better course of action.

Jessica Neuwirth

AIUSA staff 1985-1990

New York, New York