When celebrity luster gives cover to how America judges its own

OPINION — I am not one of those folks who see celebrities as larger-than-life icons to be worshipped and admired. Usually. But the recent deaths of Jessye Norman and Diahann Carroll hit me in the gut because those two amazing women were at once larger than life and so very real. The reactions to their accomplishments also illustrate an American or perhaps universal trait — the ability to compartmentalize, to place certain citizens of color or underrepresented citizens on a pedestal, at once a part of and apart from others of their race or gender or religion or orientation.

It allows negative judgment of entire groups to exist alongside denials of any racist or discriminatory intent. There are a lot of problems with that way of thinking. It places an unfair burden on the icons, a need to be less a human being than a flawless symbol. And it uses them as a rebuke to others who never managed to overcome society’s obstacles.

Most destructively, it allows behavior that punishes those not so talented, fortunate or lucky.

North Carolina residents on SNAP cuts: ‘This is just a worse version of bad’

CHARLOTTE – Diane Byrd, 53, is making ends meet – barely. The in-home health care worker makes just over $400 every two weeks. She pays $470 in rent. And she has depended on the $200 in food stamps she receives, not for herself but for her son’s daughter, Zabria Sherrill, the 7-year-old granddaughter she is raising. “You’ve got your light bill, your gas bill. You’ve got to do the wash,” Byrd said on Friday. “If they cut back on what I get, I’ll have to scratch it out.” But she said she’s not sure how.

On Nov. 1, when Congress failed to act, the temporary increase in the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — established in the 2009 stimulus bill – expired. More than 47 million American saw their benefits go down, a cut of $5 billion in the next year; the Agriculture Department estimated that a family of four receiving food stamps would receive $36 less a month. In Congress, the discussion is about cutting SNAP benefits further as a means of reducing spending. The only disagreement between Democrats and Republicans is over how deep the cuts would be.

Agencies that are expected to fill in the gaps will continue to do the work they’ve been doing on the ground for years. “Since December of 2007, nothing has given these folks a break,” said Carol Hardison, chief executive officer for 13 years at Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte. “This is just a worse version of bad,” she said of the SNAP cuts.