My anthem kneeling Twitter thread went viral. Here's what it taught me about humanity.

Having something go viral reveals some interesting truths about people.

I recently wrote a Twitter thread based on a longer blog post that went a bit bananas.

I knew it had reached viral status when God (the Facebook comedian, not the actual Lord Almighty) shared it on Facebook, and George Takei (the actual Lord Almighty of social media) shared it twice in one week.


Millions of views, hundreds of thousands of shares, and thousands of comments later, I've gained some interesting insights about my fellow humans.

The thread was about why and how Colin Kaepernick changed his protest of racial injustice in our legal system from sitting during the national anthem to kneeling. Apparently, many people had missed that Nate Boyer, a former NFL player and Green Beret, had suggested that Kaepernick kneel instead of sit in order to show respect to veterans and military personnel.

I’ve been writing on the internet for a long time, and I’ve had some things go viral before. But this was on a whole other level. People have feelings about kneeling during the anthem as a method of protest. Big, Big, Feelings.

They say you should never read the comments on the internet, but that's silly advice for a writer.

When you write things for people to read, you naturally want to see their responses. So I read the comments. And yes, sometimes they are horrible. For this post, I got called a "dumb bitch," "the dumbest woman in America," a "whore" (because that makes sense) and an "instrument of Satan." You can lose your faith in humanity in the comments section really fast.

But if you are willing to wade through some muck and mire, there are some wonderful conversations to be had online. I've personally learned a lot from interacting with people on social media, broadened my own perspectives, and gotten loads of practice engaging in civil discourse.

I've also learned, from the responses to this post as well as others, a few things about my fellow citizens.

Some seem to believe that there are only two types of people: liberals and conservatives.

In addition to being a whore, I'm apparently a "liberal fascist." Why? Because I'm anti-racism? I support the first amendment? I shared a true story? I don't believe that kneeling to protest racism and police brutality is disrespectful to our country or the people who fight for it?

It's truly mind boggling that so many folks still don't understand this.

Posted by George Takei on Tuesday, September 11, 2018

In that thread, I literally just explained exactly what happened. I didn't say anything about political leanings at all. And yet a decent percentage of the angry comments I received called me some version of evil liberal/leftist/Democrat.

And a fair percentage of people vehemently cheering me on made snide comments about rightwingers/conservatives/Republicans.

Unfortunately, that's to be expected in the comments section. But I received two e-mails I from two different people who said they couldn't tell whether I was liberal or conservative, but wanted to thank me for what I'd written anyway.

Why would you even need to know if I'm liberal or conservative? And why do I have to be one or the other? Most people don't fall neatly into left/right, blue/red, Democrat/Republican. I know I don't.

We have got to get out of this habit of splitting Americans into two distinct, opposing camps. It's weird, and it's not helpful at all in discussing nuanced, complex issues.

Some people don't seem to understand that we can consciously choose how we look at things.

The interesting thing about the anthem kneeling discussion is that so many people don't seem to recognize that each one of us has a choice in how we view it. Even if our initial gut reaction says, "That's disrespectful!" we can listen and hear the whole story and come to a different conclusion.

So many people are adamant that these protests are essentially spitting on veterans. But there is in no consensus among the military that kneeling during the anthem to protest racial injustice is disrespectful. I received just as many comments from veterans who support the players' protests as who don't. Some choose to see it as disrespectful, and some don't. But it's a choice either way, and people need to own that choice.

Some people really are open-minded enough to change their opinion when presented with new information.

The best thing to come out of this viral experience is the batch of comments, emails, and private messages I received saying, "Wow. My perspective on these protests has totally changed."

So often we assume that everyone is fixed in their opinion and there's no point in trying to reason with people who don't already agree with us. Yes, some people willfully remain unreachable no matter how many facts or how much logic you present them with, but there are plenty who simply need to have their view broadened a bit in order to choose to see something a different way.

These folks restore my faith in people.

So do the veterans who speak out in support of the players protesting and the police officers who support the call for reform in their ranks.

So do the commenters who can't get past their view of the flag and anthem as sacred and untouchable, but who engage in respectful discussion about it anyway.

And so do the countless activists who have these discussions all the time, somehow without draining themselves completely.

Conversations with reasonable people can and should drown out the name-callers and the trolls. When we focus on positive and productive interactions, we can find hope for humanity—even in the comments section.

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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