The concept of cultural sensitivity is located within the tradition of anthropology and the history of colonisation and immigration in Australian society. This history provides a basis for examining the largely uncritical introduction of cultural considerations to the discipline of nursing. This paper argues that contemporary understandings of multiculturalism in nursing and health care policy tend to obscure, ignore and thus perpetuate notions of racial superiority. Recent works in transcultural nursing are used to illustrate the way in which ahistorical and therefore quite arbitrary traits are attributed to particular cultural groups. This perspective, given legitimacy in terms of cultural sensitivity, encourages political neutrality and thereby avoids questioning the discriminatory practices embedded in fundamental social relations.