As grandchildren of Isabel Briggs Myers , the woman who created the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), we object to the statement in the recent documentary "Persona: The Dark Truth Behind Personality Tests" that our grandmother was racist. That is a very serious charge. Our grandmother strongly believed that all human beings—regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, nationality—have unique, special gifts. She spent her life's work helping people better understand and develop their personal gifts and those of others. For that reason, her final book describing psychological type was entitled Gifts Differing. Over the decades it took for her to develop and refine the MBTI assessment, she was driven by her fierce commitment to help all people appreciate individual differences.
The claim of racism in the documentary is based on one of the mystery novels Isabel authored before turning her full attention to the MBTI assessment. Isabel wrote Give Me Death as a follow-up to her prize-winning first mystery novel, Murder Yet to Come. Both works of fiction follow a detective team working to solve murders.
Give Me Death is about the members of an aristocratic southern white family who are done in by their own reactions to having a mixed-race heritage. Their reactions, set within the racist southern culture of the 1930s, drives the surprise plot twist that solves the murder mystery.
The fact that Isabel wrote a fictional murder mystery that included racist characters doesn't make her racist. Novelists often write about characters who are evil, misguided, and disagreeable. This does not mean the author shares or condones their actions and beliefs. We know from the many years we spent with Isabel until her death in 1980 that she did not share the beliefs of those characters.
The additional claim in the documentary that this long out-of-print book (that did not sell well, unlike her first mystery novel) was being "hidden" is baffling. Any Google search shows that copies of the book are for sale, and there are online reviews, including one from 2012 that did not confuse the author with her characters (http://thepassingtramp.blogspot.com/2012/12/greenacres-is-place-to-flee-give-me.html). The New York Times reviewer in 1934 gave Give Me Death a rave review, writing: "The final solution of the mystery comes as a complete surprise and brings to a dramatic close a story that is notable not only for its tense situations and its admirable character drawing, but also for its fine literary quality that sets it apart from all but the very best examples of recent mystery fiction."
Isabel made understanding patterns of type preferences her life's work: the differences and similarities between people. That's what drove her -- systematically exploring patterns in how individuals make sense of, and reach judgments about, the world. One of her original motivations in the early 1940s was fighting the intolerance of differences among people that led to the atrocities of WWII. She repeatedly shared her hope with us that her work could prevent the occurrence of similar events. She believed that by understanding our own strengths and weaknesses, and those of others, we could develop our own potential and better understand and respect others. It was an all-consuming task that she finished on her deathbed with her book Gifts Differing.
She was a gentle soul who herself fought against sexist assumptions about her over many decades to realize her vision. She believed deeply in the potential of all human beings, and the MBTI assessment reflects that belief.