It’s become an iconic image and the most popular one in the White House itself: the President bends down to allow a five-year-old boy to feel his hair.
It’s traditional when staff leave that they get to have a photo taken with the President and their family. When Carlton Philadelphia, a former Marine, left his job at the National Security Council be brought along his son, Jacob. Carlton told his son to think of a question to ask the President, but not to tell him what it was.
When they arrived in the Oval Office, Jacob got to ask his question. It was:
I want to know if my hair is just like yours.
The president replied:
Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?
He encouraged Jacob by saying, “touch it, dude!”
And that’s when the White House photographer snapped this iconic image. Pete Souza told the New York Times:
I think people are struck by the fact that the president of the United States was willing to bend down and let a little boy feel his head.
Writes Jonathan Capehart for The Washington Post:
For Jacob, asking Obama about his hair was clearly about establishing a connection, about confirming that the powerful person who looks like him is really like him in so many ways. As Obama adviser David Axelrod [said], “Really, what he was saying is, ‘Gee, you’re just like me.’ And it doesn’t take a big leap to think that child could be thinking, ‘Maybe I could be here someday.’”
The power of that photo taken by White House photographer Pete Souza had those two elements for me. A black man allowing his head to be touched by a stranger. But not just any stranger. A child seeking a familiar link between himself and the black man, who also happens to be the leader of the free world. Still, I don’t think I can ever articulate everything the Souza photo says to me.
Obama gets a bum rap for not talking more openly about race. What his critics don’t get — and what the Souza photo perfectly illustrates — is that the president addresses so much about race without ever opening his mouth.
Lawrence O’Donnell spoke to Jacob and his family. He asks Jacob what he wants to do when he grows up — I bet you can guess his answer?
Watch (there is a delightful moment when Jacob is calmed by his big brother):
Picture: courtesy The White House