The Boy Who Felt Obama’s Hair (Video)

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):

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Picture: courtesy The White House


Latonya W.
Latonya W5 years ago


Erika M.
Erika M5 years ago

I find it adorable. Yeah, Jane I can see George W. doing the same thing. NOT

Teddie S.
Teddie S5 years ago

What a wonderful moment for this little boy, to be taken seriously by the President, and bending down so Jacob could find out if their hair, felt the same.
@Jane R., spoken like a true Republican. Not being able to see that Obama, was not just humoring this child.

Melissah Chadwick
Past Member 5 years ago


Sue Matheson
Sue Matheson5 years ago


Deborah D.
Deborah D5 years ago

I agree, some of the most powerful ways to communicate about ones ethnicity, religion, style of thinking, etc. is not to push it through with endless soundbites. Eventually it becomes drowned out with the noise of everyone elses claims.

This is not just 'humoring' a child - it is giving the child a respectful response to an honest question. Kudos to young Jacob's father for giving his son such a memorable experience.

Holly Lawrence
Holly Lawrence5 years ago


Jennifer C.
Past Member 5 years ago


Abbe A.
Azaima A5 years ago


Maitreya L5 years ago

Now if Obama would just stop bombing little kids. . .