Four years ago I was in the chair in a crowded barbershop, when an elderly customer, awaiting his turn, unleashed an astounding tirade of racist vitriol after the man cutting my hair mentioned his support for the candidacy of Barack Obama.
This wasn't political banter. There was no mention of policy and no pretense of support for the Republican ticket. The man's vile monologue was pure racism: as simple-minded as it was hateful, as sinful as it was hurtful. His was a vocabulary not often employed in Silicon Valley.
Everyone in the room was shocked and embarrassed, yet no one stood up to the racist. We had our excuses: the old codger was unreconstructed, probably senile, and no one was paying attention to him anyway; so we kept silent.
And I regret my silence. I missed a chance to be the kind of person I want to be: someone who stands up to bigotry and hate.
I've not seen that old man since, but four years later, sometimes I feel like I am in a similar situation when I visit social networking websites. I have a few virtual friends who take liberties with my liberalism by posting updates infused with ignorance and venality. Some are homophobic, some suggest Islam is a religion of violence, some are pro-life in a way that finds fault with women who exercise agency over their bodies.