AKUMAL, Mexico—As luck would have it, my family and I have been watching that feast of American greatness called the Olympics while in vacation here in Mexico. Our routine is pretty simple: we do some combination of hitting the beach, visiting Maya ruins or reading, and then have dinner at our hideaway before huddling in front of the TV to watch the games.
Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps, and the women’s gymnastics team had the five of us at hello.
The only fly in the ointment has come via the news and the realization that politics and race have once again crept up into the Olympics, just as it has in the past. I picked up USA Today at a local supermarket one morning to read that the Final Five is proof of the triumph of “diversity.”
An editorial notes that race relations are at a nadir in America, “as evidenced by the intense battles over illegal immigration, policing and the Black Lives Matter movement.” All true, and the polls are there to prove it. But the editorial goes on to aver, “But diversity also improves America’s competitiveness, from the balance beams of athletics to the board rooms of the world economy.”
A quick check online that night turned up that a lot of people have been saying similar stuff stateside. Over at the Chicago Tribune, Heidi Stevens had this cris de coeur: “We need the Final Five to push back against the daily rhetoric that tells us we’re a divided, crumbling shell of our former selves.” Vox, as usual, got its knickers in a twist, celebrating the team’s diversity while bemoaning that its achievements “won’t calm race relations.”
America, however, has always been diverse and drawn upon this large talent pool to surmount existential moments, just as it did when during the Civil War, when an estimated quarter of the Union Army’s enlisted men were foreign born.
If this is what the writers mean by “diversity”—that we take people from all over the world, turn them into Americans, and benefit from their talents—then of course I am with them.
But the melting pot isn’t what is usually meant when people celebrate diversity.
In fact, as any college freshman can tell you, diversity and the melting pot are rival models of how to organize the country. The enforced affirmation of diversity above all else often detracts from the greater national identity, and thus the unity that makes a team succeed, whether it’s made up of five or 330 million.
The Final Five are indeed a victory for the melting pot—the idea that we all meld together into an American nation, forging out of many different elements one unified, stronger alloy. But their feat is a rebuke of diversity as it is indoctrinated in campuses and policed by all levels of government. The board rooms that USA Today refers to are in fact not diversifying fast enough even for the independent Securities and Exchange Commission, which is considering mandating stricter rules to force companies to disclose plans to make boards more diverse.
“Diversity,” thus, is enforced through means that are inimical to the success of the women’s gymnastics team:
- Affirmative Action: Diversity enforcers demand that participation in all aspects of society reflect the numbers of members of different groups. If the Final Five were, for example, the Final 10, they would be suspect if they did not include a member of the other two components of the ethno-racial pentagon, Asians and Native Americans. But Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, Aly Raisman and Madison Kocian—two African-Americans, a Latina, and two white girls—as we keep hearing—obviously got their place in their elite group through meritocracy. They deserved to be there because of their talent as gymnasts. Period. If two of them had been replaced to wedge in a less-deserving Asian-American or Native American, the team would have suffered as a result.
- Ethnic Identity: Diversity emphasizes identification with sub-groups at the expense of the traditional touchstones of religion and country. Being a member of one of the oppressed groups deemed to have suffered from historic discrimination—a consideration even accorded to an immigrant whose ancestors could not have been kept poor by the very real legally sanctioned depredations that took place decades ago—is the important identity when it comes to the affirmative action discussed above. But the members of the Final Five give no indication that such racial or ethnic emphasis is present at all. Look up Hernandez, for example, and what jumps out is not that her parents are Puerto Ricans, but that she’s a strong Christian who’s been home-schooled from the third grade. She meditates daily on 1 Thessalonians 5:18 (“Give thanks in all circumstances”), a verse that’s hard to square with racial grievance mongering—which may be why it’s missing from most articles on this outstanding athlete. Just last week Hernandez told reporters she didn’t “think it matters what race you are. If you want to train hard enough to go to Olympics, then you’re going to go out and you’re going to do it. It doesn’t matter what skin color or who you are.” Again, not exactly Black Lives Matter.
- Official Multilingualism: This other shibboleth of the diversity movement would render Americans less able to pull together for a common purpose (for examples, please see Belgium and Canada in the industrialized world, and places too numerous to cite in the less developed world). But the Final Five work as one. Hernandez again: “We’re always building each other up and making sure that we’re cheering for each other and shouting ‘C’mon, you got it, confidence.'”
The melting pot cuts against the grain of all this, which is why it is denigrated and discouraged today from kindergarten on. The melting pot, in fact, is what allowed Reisman and Kocian—one Jewish and the other with one likely Czech ancestor—to be undistinguishable Americans. While the Czech immigration into Texas begins in the 1840s, many of the East European immigrants who came in through Ellis Island from 1890 to the 1920s weren’t even considered white at all, and neither of course were Jews for decades. The melting pot got rid of these differences, though of course African-Americans were kept out of it. The answer obviously is to extend one American identity to all, and to minimize our differences.
If we don’t, one has to wonder how well we’ll do in the 2060 Olympics.