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.

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons

Wil Wheaton speaking to an audience at 2019 Wondercon.

In an era of debates over cancel culture and increased accountability for people with horrendous views and behaviors, the question of art vs. artist is a tricky one. When you find out an actor whose work you enjoy is blatantly racist and anti-semitic in real life, does that realization ruin every movie they've been a part of? What about an author who has expressed harmful opinions about a marginalized group? What about a smart, witty comedian who turns out to be a serial sexual assaulter? Where do you draw the line between a creator and their creation?

As someone with his feet in both worlds, actor Wil Wheaton weighed in on that question and offered a refreshingly reasonable perspective.

A reader who goes by @avinlander asked Wheaton on Tumblr:

"Question: I have more of an opinion question for you. When fans of things hear about misconduct happening on sets/behind-the-scenes are they allowed to still enjoy the thing? Or should it be boycotted completely? Example: I've been a major fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer since I was a teenager and it was currently airing. I really nerded out on it and when I lost my Dad at age 16 'The Body' episode had me in such cathartic tears. Now we know about Joss Whedon. I haven't rewatched a single episode since his behavior came to light. As a fan, do I respectfully have to just box that away? Is it disrespectful of the actors that went through it to knowingly keep watching?"

And Wheaton offered this response, which he shared on Facebook:

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."