Hate vs. debate—a tale of two e-mail responses to an article I wrote

I've been writing for the people of the internet for more than a decade, so I'm used to my fair share of hate mail. I don't generally share the details of my inbox with the public (choosing instead to send screenshots to my close friends so we can vent about the insanity of the world together), but two e-mails I received from people who had similar complaints about an article I wrote seem like they offer a lesson of sorts about how we should—and shouldn't—communicate with each other.

A few months ago, I wrote an article about some people's reactions to the murder of Cannon Hinnant, a 5-year-old North Carolina boy shot and killed by a neighbor while out riding his bike in front of his house. It was a terrible, tragic story. Anti-BLM forces quickly jumped on it, complaining that the national media didn't cover the story like they would if the races were reversed (Hinnant was white, his killer was Black). A #SayHisName campaign accompanied the complaint, usurped from the BLM movement. My piece pointed out the reasons why that complaint was problematic.

You can read the piece here if you want the context for the emails I'm going to share with you.

As with many articles I write, the reactions were split. I got messages from people thanking me for expressing exactly what they had wanted to say, and messages from people who vehemently disagreed. I always a bit amazed when people take the time to track down my e-mail address to share their thoughts on what I write, and I generally appreciate it, even when they're writing to tell me they disagree with me. But the disagreement messages for this article were on a whole other level.


If it were just the one horrible message, I'd write it off as just some whacko. But I got multiple messages and comments that were boiling over with hatred. I had to block one guy from my Facebook page for dropping in to address me—a woman he has never met—as a "hypocritical bitch" and a "f*cking c*nt" with no other arguments made. (Out of curiosity, I took a peek at his profile and found out he was a fitness/performance coach who had volunteered with a kindness initiative. Interesting, huh?)

But the cherry on top of this article's hate mail sundae was this email from a man named Edger. Prepare now for a bunch of profanity. (You might also need a key for this: gfy = go fuck yourself, pos = piece of shit, msm = mainstream media.)

Here we go:

"Say his fucking name!

Your liberal pos article telling us not to compare Cannon Hinnant's murder to the scam blm bs or politicize the tragedy is unbelievably fucked up bitch. THAT is exactly what you motherfuckers have been doing for six fucking months over this blm scam bullshit, so gfy you scumbag pos!!!

We are sick of you leftwing blm socialist scam artist destroying America and will fight to the death for our country. And we will win.

I pray one or better yet all of your kids get cancer and die, so you can feel the pain of what you liberals have done to this innocent family and Americans with your cold hearted liberal left wing politically motivated articles and tweets. All of you heartless and trashy liberal degenerates will pay dearly one day, God willing.

CNN, MSNBC and CNBC did not pick up the story until just a few hours ago and only after the outrage of their deafening silence was raised loudly by patriotic Americans, unlike you msm liberals pos assholes.

You pathetic pieces of shit do not come close to understanding how angry we all are, but you will in November, you corrupt vermin.
HOW DARE YOU EVIL FUCKING SCUM.
FU!!!"

So fun, right? Clearly, the dude has some issues, but this is really not too far off from public comments I receive on Facebook regularly on my articles. Our public discourse has devolved into radicalized idealogues spewing the anger and hatred their chosen media outlets keep them coming hooked on instead of actually discussing ideas and issues.

But it doesn't have to be this way.

Another email I received on this article exemplifies the kind of disagreements we can and should have, even if we're coming from totally different perspectives.

Hi Annie

First if I want to say I'm sorry you were subjected to all those vulgar tirades from those that did not like your article on Cannon. Those were uncalled for and just immature.

But that is not to say I agree with your article. There are some flaws or liberties you took with your argument. The 30 second google search on news stories does come up with hits, but most from Thursday or Friday of last week. When the murder took place on Sunday. One very local News to NC Did report it on Sunday night.

Second, you wrote, on average, three children are killed every day. But that includes those over the age of 12. I don't think 16 thru 18 year old count as children. Those over the age of 12 make up half of the three children. If you focus on the 8 and under group(Which is more appropriate for this case), it's more like one per day. And I'd be willing to bet, In not one case, did a man walk up to a child in the street and shoot him point blank in the face. Just the heinous of this crime should have made more of a National splash.

I am not asking for demanding justice. His killer was caught.

But in these days of all this racial unrest, I truly believe that, if the races were reversed, this would have been the first story on Good Morning America on Monday morning. Wouldn't you agree? Or at least agree that is a good possibility? Of course I can't prove that and can't cite any examples of when this actually happened.

Anyway, I wanted to write and share my thoughts. I am just so tired of the media bias.

Mike

Now, that's a message I can do something with.

The obvious lesson here is "Be like Mike, not like Edger," but how do we get people to do that? As I said, I've been writing on the internet for 10 years. I've written about all kinds of contentious topics, from racism to breastfeeding in public. Up until this year, the foulest message I'd received was on an op-ed I wrote five years ago about not assuming every family does Santa Claus—a take that earned me a "Stop being such a whiny c*nt and stop f*cking up your kids" message to my personal Facebook page. I get messages like that regularly now.

There are ways to discuss our perspectives—assuming your perspective isn't wrapped in denying someone's humanity or basic human rights—with civility and reasoned arguments. I am happy to debate issues and do so frequently, but it's impossible to have a discussion with someone who says they hope your kids get cancer and die. Hatred like that is cancerous itself, but unfortunately it feels like its metastasizing throughout the body politic.

I wish I had a perfect answer for how to stop it, but I don't. All I know is that we won't survive this if we don't figure out something quick.

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

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James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

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4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

Cellist Cremaine Booker's performance of Faure's "Pavane" is as impressive as it is beautiful.

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Music is an art, a science, a language and a decidedly human endeavor. People have made music throughout history, in every culture on every continent. Over time, people have perfected the crafting of instruments and passed along the knowledge of how to play them, so every time we see someone playing music, we're seeing the history of humanity culminated in their craft. It's truly an amazing thing.

The pandemic threw a wrench into seeing live musicians for a good chunk of time, and even now, live performances are limited. Thankfully, we have technology that makes it easier for musicians to collaborate and perform with one another virtually—and also makes it easier for people to create "group" performances all by themselves.

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