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Are we looking less like Americans?

Date

Sydney Morning Herald political and international editor

View more articles from Peter Hartcher

<i>Illustration: John Shakespeare.</i>

Illustration: John Shakespeare.

Join the debate: SMH Comment

The US media has noticed a new trend in advertising of major brands in America - the mainstream taboo on using mixed-race families has been broken.

The multibillion-dollar Cheerios breakfast cereal is running a TV ad starring a biracial girl with a white mother and a black father, for instance. Honey Maid, a venerable brand of graham cracker, features a variety of unconventional families in a new ad campaign, including one with a Hispanic mother and an African-American father with their three mixed-race children.

You might think that in a country whose president is the product of a white woman and a black man, this would have long been accepted as unremarkable.

But no. It took more, the brute arithmetic of demographics.

"The big brands are coming to the conclusion that diversity in America is inevitable," cross-cultural psychologist Andrew Erlich told the newspaper USA Today. "The horse has left the barn."

Or, as the conservative Fox News host Bill O'Reilly put it on the night Barack Obama was re-elected and the white Republican Mitt Romney was rejected: "The white establishment is now the minority."

Whites are not yet outnumbered in the US, but the Census Bureau projects they will be a minority of the US population in 2043.

Or, as Americans like to say in one of their many race euphemisms, theirs will be a "majority minority" country in 29 years.

In just five years from now, most children in the US will be non-white, according to the Census Bureau.

America's demographic trajectory is taking it to a place that Australians will find looking - and sounding - less and less familiar. Most of the immigrants to the US since 1965 are Hispanic.

What is Australia doing to keep in touch with the profound change in its great ally? Not much, is the answer, so Phil Scanlan decided to do something about it.

Scanlan, an Australian with an imperial air and remarkable energy, is a former chief executive of Coca-Cola Amatil, and Australia's former consul-general in New York. He's best known, however, as a network-builder extraordinaire.

He and his American wife, Julie Singer Scanlan, founded the Australian American Leadership Dialogue 22 years ago. It started as an annual exercise in private diplomacy. The idea was to renew the close personal ties between the two nations that had been forged in World War II.

The dialogue succeeded in creating a web of new relationships between business people, politicians, academics, officials and journalists. It's always been politically bipartisan, in both countries.

The White House under Obama has been every bit as welcoming as it was under George W. Bush, for instance, inviting the annual dialogue contingents of 50 or 60 for high-level briefings. Peter Costello and Julie Bishop sat side by side with Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd.

But people unfamiliar with the dialogue are always unsatisfied to hear that it has done something vague-sounding like created a new web of relationships. What has it accomplished, specifically? In other words, what transactions have flowed through that web? The dialogue is a private event, not controlled by any government or institution, and that's one reason for its success.

But two case studies have found their way into public over the years. One is in the realm of trade. The former US trade representative, Bob Zoellick, has said publicly that the US-Australia free trade agreement would not have happened without the dialogue. Under that agreement, two-way trade has doubled in five years.

The other is in the arena of crisis management. When John Howard decided that Australia would lead a UN-mandated force into East Timor to help midwife its independence from Indonesia, he turned confidently to the US for help. The US under the Clinton administration flatly refused. But the personal relations built by the dialogue kicked into life immediately. With the help of private back channels in both countries, the US position was reversed within three days.

Now, with the future America in mind, Scanlan this month created a new iteration of the dialogue centred on Miami. This Florida city is sometimes called the capital of Latin America, a portal through which people, money and business flows between the US and the continent to its south. Australia doesn't have a consulate there.

"You have to think ahead in this business," says Scanlan.

"If we are going to understand our major strategic and economic partner as it looks to its own future, we need to look at key strategic locations like Miami."

And the week after inaugurating the Australian dialogue with Miami, Scanlan convened a major dinner at New York's Harvard Club to launch yet another dialogue - the Global Leadership Dialogue in New York.

"Leadership is about creating new space in the service of others," is a Scanlan motto. He creates the network; it's up to the members to make the most of the opportunity.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Scanlan's dialogue-building has been a signal success. Canada, Israel and New Zealand have all mimicked the Scanlan model to create dialogues with Australia.

And the Abbott government took office promising to replicate the Australian-American Leadership dialogue in a new Australia-China Leadership Dialogue.

"Australia is a three-ocean continental nation with 23 million people and we are privileged to live in it. Our obligation is to add value to the rest of the planet, otherwise the rest of the planet will take care of the continent for us."

Peter Hartcher is the international editor. He is a long-standing member of the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue.

28 comments

  • How exactly will Tony Abbott's government add value to the planet? In terms of environmental
    policy, this is the worst government in our history, and I shudder at the lack of example Australia provides to developing nations. Fancy pulling $3M in aid to Indonesia which was intended to protect seriously endangered Sumartran rhinoceroses. Mean-heartedness rules supreme. Acceptance of diversity? There's nothing remarkable about Australia and still too much casual racism. Science and R&D? Again, nothing to see here, so please move on. International diplomacy? I very much doubt it. In a nutshell the government would like to see rows of Aussie school kids waving little union jack flags as a royal motorcade passes. Such a pity it's actually 2014.

    Commenter
    Juan Term
    Date and time
    March 18, 2014, 12:29AM
    • Did you watch QA last night. The assistant minister of education is very concerned that attempts to rehabilitate the Murray river has led to a plague of red gum saplings springing up like weeds. I suspect endangered Sumatran rhinoceroses are best served with rice in LNP circles.

      Not sure what this has to do with the article however, or are the private dialogs yielding new strategies for the far right to create a self interested plutocracy? We will never look like americans until we get our teeth whitened and start wearing matching outfits.

      Commenter
      Bruce
      Date and time
      March 18, 2014, 7:40AM
    • @Juan Term:
      Australia has voted, a new government is in place and we now commence the long march backwards. Science and R&D is off the table, balancing the budget is all that counts and vision is a dirty word. Well may they say God save the Queen, because nothing will save us from this mob.

      Commenter
      JohnC
      Location
      Gosford NSW
      Date and time
      March 18, 2014, 7:40AM
    • If a Scanlan motto is, ''Leadership is about creating new space in the service of others'' then it is neoliberal/ neoconservative jargon that essentially means creating new markets (or, more simply, finding a way to take more money off an ever-increasing population). The service provision does not translate to a 'moral' service - but rather, an economic service.
      NB: Means they are focused on wealth creation for themselves.

      Commenter
      Jump
      Date and time
      March 18, 2014, 9:20AM
  • Looking at Shakespeare's illustration I would have to agree that Australia is looking less and less like America. And perhaps America is looking less and less like America too.

    Commenter
    peter
    Location
    vietnam
    Date and time
    March 18, 2014, 2:16AM
    • America like most Western nations is being hollowed out by immigrants from the developing world. As a result America will lose interest in its leading role. I can't imagine why any nation would accept a future where the dominant culture, that is objectively better than others, would be allowed to go into terminal decline. The peoples' of my race/culture are going extinct worldwide. It's sad, and there is no reason to believe they are being replaced by others that can maintain their standards.

      Commenter
      APM
      Date and time
      March 18, 2014, 6:38AM
      • APM - a objectively dominant culture going into decline? Are you really asserting some type of white anglo culture is dominant to all other cultures?
        This comment reflects the current difficulty I and many others have with our political debate at the moment. It is predicated on an Australia in 1956 being something of an idyllic society and everything that has gone wrong since is because of those pesky foreigners of which the middle eastern and african variety are only the latest incantation.
        Once mainstream media becomes more reflective of tour current cultural mix the absurdity of this position will become more obvious.

        Commenter
        Bernie
        Date and time
        March 18, 2014, 8:11AM
      • I tend to agree with you APM, I think that the reasons that Putin has no respect or fear of the US is racially motivated as he sees Russia as the one truly white Christian nation left in the world, and he's not afraid to say so, unlike the Europeans and Americans where everything has to appear politically correct on the surface but underneath there is a huge amount of racial tension going on that is not allowed to be talked about and creates more and more white nationalist groups.

        Commenter
        GD
        Location
        Kogarah
        Date and time
        March 18, 2014, 8:13AM
      • You know you said that in your out-loud voice, don't you, APM? I'm a bit embarrassed for you right now.

        Commenter
        Sigh
        Date and time
        March 18, 2014, 8:18AM
      • A fan of Henry Cabot Lodge and his "Immigration Restriction League", I see.

        They (Lodge acolytes) called the natives of the Philippines niggers. But even his American white supremacist followers like Taft said that after 100 years of more of tutelage that the Philippinos and Cubans et al might have learned the American way and be ready for a post-colonial era (with what ever resources left after Wall Street lawyers had stripped their cupboards bare and land ownership was firmly secured for the gringos running the local United Fruit styled operation).

        Imagine placing yourself on a shelf closer to the sun than that lot? I see the silhouette of your applause for the likes of Edward Lansdale reflected off that same sun from here.

        But not in my Australia sunshine.

        Commenter
        archivista
        Date and time
        March 18, 2014, 8:34AM

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