We all know that the politics of race has always been the bedrock of Malaysian political culture in the last six decades. The success of the early Alliance and then the Barisan Nasional coalitions comprising race-based parties was due in large part to the electorate’s acceptance that Malaysian power-sharing was based on the negotiation between races.

Politicians and their parties fighting for the rights and interests of their race have been the ideological orthodoxy all these while. Nobody would think of calling any ministers or political parties ‘racist”, because racism was perhaps deemed politically correct.

Things must have really changed when we witness in recent days the great Malay nationalist icon Dr Mahathir Mohamad and senior Umno cabinet minister Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz trading personal insults in public, calling each other “racist”.

All of a sudden, the terms “racist” and “racism” have become bad words, as they should be long ago. The question is: What makes a person a racist, and what is racism?

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