Suni Lee’s Olympic Triumph Is More Evidence American Meritocracy Works

Suni Lee’s Olympic Triumph Is More Evidence American Meritocracy Works

Woke leftists say Sunisa 'Suni' Lee's story of Olympic achievement defies meritocracy, as they continue to attack Asian American achievement in education.
Helen Raleigh
By

Even if you are not a fan of the Olympic Games, you probably have heard of Sunisa “Suni” Lee. The 18-year-old Hmong American gymnast helped Team USA win a silver medal in the team competition in the Tokyo Olympic Games. After American gymnast Simon Biles unexpectedly pulled out of the all-around competition, Lee stepped up to the challenge and ended up becoming the first Asian American woman to win a gold medal in the Olympics’ all-around competition. She also won a bronze medal in uneven bars.

Lee’s extraordinary achievements didn’t come easy. She came from a tight-knit Hmong community, which is predominantly comprised of war refugees resettled in the United States since the 1970s.

It was widely reported that when Lee was young, her father couldn’t afford a balance beam, so he built her one at home. In 2019, Lee’s father was seriously injured while trimming a tree. Then COVID-19 hit. The gym where Lee had practiced since she was a little girl was shut down. She lost two relatives with COVID-19 and had to endure a foot injury last year. Yet Lee overcame all these obstacles and made history at the Olympics.

Lee’s story is a quintessentially American story about meritocracy. Meritocracy is defined as “a social system in which success and status in life depend primarily on individual talents, abilities, and effort. It is a social system in which people advance based on their merits.”

The United States is the best representation of a meritocracy. Generations of Americans who weren’t born with social and economic advantages have accomplished amazing things solely based on their talents and efforts. A celebration of Lee’s accomplishment is also a celebration of America’s meritocratic system.

NBC ‘Experts’ Say Hmong ‘Obscured by Tropes’

But that isn’t how NBC chose to tell Lee’s story. In a piece about Lee, NBC claims Lee’s story somehow defies meritocracy. The article cites statistics about the Hmong community’s relatively high poverty rate and lower educational attainment compared to those of other Asian American groups. It quotes unidentified “experts” who claim these statistics show the Hmong community “has been obscured by tropes and images of wealthy Asian Americans who enjoy a much higher degree of privilege compared to that of the community.”

Such assertion is condescending and ignorant. Asian Americans didn’t become wealthy because they received any government handouts or enjoyed any special privileges. Asian Americans have endured a long history of bigotry and racial discrimination in the United States. Despite these obstacles, Asian Americans have achieved better economic outcomes and higher educational attainment than the population average, a testament that meritocracy works. That some groups haven’t reached the same degrees of educational and economic success as others should be motivation for more meritocracy, not less.

The worst part of the NBC article came at the end when it again quoted unnamed “experts” who acknowledged Lee’s story is one of achievement and grit, but insisted “it’s important that her [Lee’s] narrative does not further perpetuate the idea that such extraordinary accomplishments are inevitable by just ‘pulling yourself up by the bootstraps.’” These experts added, “Lee’s success isn’t so much proof of the opportunities or meritocracy in the U.S. but more so a reflection of the resilience of her community.”

The mental gymnastic these woke “experts” did is worthy of a gold medal of its own. To deny Lee’s story as an example of meritocracy is to deny her extraordinary talent, her years of hard work, and her family and community’s resilience. It seems that these woke “experts” neither understand what meritocracy is nor speak for the Hmong community.

Contrary to “expert” assertions, Lee’s family seems to have little doubt that her success is proof of meritocracy in the United States. Sia Lo, a Minnesota-based attorney and a member of Lee’s extended family, told a hometown newspaper, the Star Tribune, “The Hmong here are very proud to be American. We hope all of America is proud of Suni. What she’s achieved showcases what is possible here in the United States.”

Woke Left Intent On Destroying Achievement

This NBC piece reinforces something we have already known: the woke left doesn’t understand what meritocracy means but is bent on destroying it anyway because they see merit, meritocracy, and especially meritocracy based on standardized testing as all “racist systems.” The woke left’s war on meritocracy, especially in education, has hurt Asian American children the most.

For decades, Harvard University’s race-based college admissions have discriminated against Asian Americans by limiting the number of Asian American applicants accepted. The nonprofit Students for Fair Admissions (SFFA), which brought a lawsuit against Harvard, has shown that Asian American applicants had to have SAT scores about 140 points higher than their white peers to be accepted into Harvard.

If admission were solely based on SAT scores and other academic ratings, Asian American students would likely be admitted at a higher rate than applicants from all other racial backgrounds. However, the Harvard admission office has taken a “holistic” approach that considers race and social factors, denying many highly qualified Asian American students.

While SFFA is waiting to see if the U.S. Supreme Court will hear the Harvard case, more than 1,600 universities and colleges, including the University of California, announced last year that they would drop SAT or ACT scores from their admission requirements. These colleges and universities will adopt a “holistic” approach for their admission, similar to Harvard’s.

This is bad news for Asian American students. Not only will qualified Asian American students be denied an elite education, but future college discrimination cases will be difficult to prove when these tests are no longer required for college admission.

Asian American Kids Shut out of Elite High Schools

To make the matter worse, the war on merit has spilled over from colleges to high schools.

After the San Francisco Board of Education eliminated Lowell High School’s merit-based admission process in the name of equity, the share of Asian American students at the top high school dropped 4.4 percent for the 2020-2021 school year. Similarly, after the Fairfax County Public School Board canceled the entrance exam for Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, the share of Asian American students admitted dropped 19 percent this year, compared to a year ago.

We should have no illusion about what the woke left hopes to accomplish. They are bent on destroying merit-based education and perpetually trapping Asian kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in the cycle of poverty. That way, the woke left gets to point to these kids as living proof that Asian Americans’ “model minority” image is a “myth” and America has always been a racist country where people of color will never succeed based on their ability and effort.

Fortunately, many Asian Americans are fighting back. In Virginia, a coalition of parents, students, alumni, and community members of the Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology filed a lawsuit alleging that changes to the admissions process harmed Asian American students. In San Francisco, three school board members who supported the cancellation of the merit-based admission process to Lowell High School face recall.

As one Asian dad said: “America and the American dream are unsustainable platitudes without meritocracy.” More Americans need to join Asian Americans to push back the woke left’s war on meritocracy, so the American dream is attainable for all kids, regardless of their racial and socio-economic backgrounds.

Helen Raleigh, CFA, is an American entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. She's a senior contributor at The Federalist. Her writings appear in other national media, including The Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Helen is the author of several books, including "Confucius Never Said" and “Backlash: How Communist China's Aggression Has Backfired." Follow her on Parler and Twitter: @HRaleighspeaks.

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