This is what President Obama represents

I consider this to still be THE picture of Barack Obama’s Presidency.

From The NYTimes:

When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State
Published: May 23, 2012

For decades at the White House, photographs of the president at work and at play have hung throughout the West Wing, and each print soon gives way to a more recent shot. But one picture of President Obama remains after three years.

In the photo, Mr. Obama looks to be bowing to a sharply dressed 5-year-old black boy, who stands erect beside the Oval Office desk, his arm raised to touch the president’s hair — to see if it feels like his. The image has struck so many White House aides and visitors that by popular demand it stays put while others come and go.

As a candidate and as president, Mr. Obama has avoided discussing race except in rare instances when he seemed to have little choice — responding to the racially incendiary words of his former pastor, for example, or to the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in Florida. Some black leaders criticize Mr. Obama for not directly addressing young blacks or proposing policies specifically for them.

Yet the photo is tangible evidence of what polls also show: Mr. Obama remains a potent symbol for blacks, with a deep reservoir of support. As skittish as White House aides often are in discussing race, they also clearly revel in the power of their boss’s example.

The boy in the picture is Jacob Philadelphia of Columbia, Md. Three years ago this month, his father, Carlton, a former Marine, was leaving the White House staff after a two-year stint on the National Security Council that began in the Bush administration. As departing staff members often do, Mr. Philadelphia asked for a family photograph with Mr. Obama.

When the pictures were taken and the family was about to leave, Mr. Philadelphia told Mr. Obama that his sons each had a question. In interviews, he and his wife, Roseane, said they did not know what the boys would ask. The White House photographer, Pete Souza, was surprised, too, as the photo’s awkward composition attests: The parents’ heads are cut off; Jacob’s arm obscures his face; and his older brother, Isaac, is blurry.

Jacob spoke first.

“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.

Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.

“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.

As Jacob patted the presidential crown, Mr. Souza snapped.

“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.

“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.

(Isaac, now 11, asked Mr. Obama why he had eliminated the F-22 fighter jet. Mr. Obama said it cost too much, Isaac and his parents recounted.)

In keeping with a practice of White House photographers back to Gerald R. Ford’s presidency, each week Mr. Souza picks new photos for display. That week, Jacob’s easily made the cut.

“As a photographer, you know when you have a unique moment. But I didn’t realize the extent to which this one would take on a life of its own,” Mr. Souza said. “That one became an instant favorite of the staff. 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.”

A copy of the photo hangs in the Philadelphia family’s living room with several others taken that day. Mr. Philadelphia, now in Afghanistan for the State Department, said: “It’s important for black children to see a black man as president. You can believe that any position is possible to achieve if you see a black person in it.”

Jacob, now 8, said he indeed does want to be president. “Or a test pilot.

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4 Responses to This is what President Obama represents

  1. Harold Baker says:

    My reaction to the picture is how it displays our Presidents true character, his humility and graciousness. It is refreshing to see a powerful man like our President being so confident and self assured that he would bend down and allow himself to be touched by this young boy. It is inconceivable that bush or romney would ever allow it, their fragile egos would never permit such a thing. I only hope and pray that President Obama is re-elected this November.

    • Ametia says:

      Hi Harold. the President is indeed a model of humility and graciousness. We must help get out the VOTE for PBO and VP Biden.

  2. rikyrah says:

    Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 05/24/2012
    Photo speaks volumes about Obama and race
    By Jonathan Capehart

    Jackie Calmes of the New York Times tells the story today of my all-time favorite presidential photo. The first time I saw it was while walking through the West Wing to a meeting three years ago. A little black boy touching the head of President Obama. The image was so powerful I stopped in my tracks and inquired about the story behind the photo. As Calmes reports, Jacob Philadelphia had a question for the president of the United States.

    “I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.
    Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He brought his head level with Jacob, who hesitated.
    “Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.
    “So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.
    “Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.

    Thanks to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, we African Americans are sensitive about our heads and our hair. A pat on the head, especially from someone white, would be patronizing at best. “Don’t let anybody touch your head,” my mother told me when we moved first moved from Newark to a predominantly white town in New Jersey. I would learn at school that some would rub the a head of someone black for good luck. And there were all sorts of put-downs for black hair — from Brillo to something not appropriate to mention in a family forum such as this. Thus, having your head touched is a rather intimate gesture that only family could get away with.

    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 told Calmes, “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.

  3. Ametia says:

    This photo is my ALL TIME FAVORITE. This photo encapsulates ALL the MADNESS of SOME white MEN, and thus the embrace of shows like the HBO series “Mad Men.”

    We can’t have any more of these negroes thinking they can ascend to the office of President of the United States of America!

    Well folks, YES.WE.CAN. & YES.WE.WILL.

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