We can cope with diversity in the workplace: but not with “over-sensitive” Aboriginal people

Document Type

Conference publication

Publication details

Nielsen, JM 2003, 'We can cope with diversity in the workplace: but not with “over-sensitive” Aboriginal people', Proceedings of Activating Human Rights and Diversity Conference, Byron Bay, NSW, 1-4 July, Southern Cross University, Lismore, NSW.


After all if we all pretend racism does not exist, that we do not know what it is or how to change it - it never has to go away. bell hooks [1] Therese MacDermott has lamented 'labour law is a neglected area of human rights discourse'. [2] This paper attempts to deal with some of this neglect by exploring the notion of 'diversity' in the workplace and the rights of Indigenous Australians to non-discrimination at work. The project on which this paper is based has sought to assess the discrimination laws to determine whether or not they involve 'the reality of a [colonial] situation that gives formal equality while being systematically oppressive', [3] by examining whether these laws challenge or whether they maintain white racial privilege within the 'Australian workplace'. Drawing on Critical Race Theory, and more particularly the emerging critique of whiteness and 'white racial privilege', [4] the paper will explore discrimination laws - and the human rights principles they express - by 'colouring' them, by exposing their whiteness and their desire to deny and eradicate what Irene Watson describes as 'knowing in the way of the grandmothers', [5] and what Aileen Moreton-Robinson calls the 'incommensurability' of Indigenous being. [6]