Hair Like Mine

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Hair Like Mine

Hair Like Mine is a 2009 photograph by Pete Souza of a five-year-old child, Jacob Philadelphia, touching the head of former president Barack Obama. Philadelphia was visiting Obama with his family and had asked if Obama's hair was similar to his. The image has been described as iconic and has been seen as symbolic of the African-American struggle for civil rights.

Context[edit]

The photograph was taken on May 8, 2009 in the Oval Office of the White House by Pete Souza.[1] Souza took the photograph in his official capacity of Chief Official White House Photographer. Philadelphia's family had come to meet Obama as his father, Carlton Philadelphia, a member of the National Security Staff, was leaving the White House after two years working on the National Security Council. Photographs taken as such with the President and the families of departing Executive Branch colleagues were known as 'departure photos'.[2]

Carlton's son, Jacob Philadelphia, said that he had a question for Obama, and said that "I want to know if your hair is like mine".[3] Jacob had initially asked the question so quietly that Obama asked him to repeat it. Obama replied "Why don't you touch it and see for yourself?", and lowered his head, Jacob hesitated and Obama told him to "Touch it, dude!" Obama asked Jacob what he thought and he said that it did feel the same.[4] Souza also said that Jacob had said that "his friends had said his haircut was just like the president's and he wanted to see if it really was...He asked the president if he could touch his head and the president bent over and he touched his head".[1] The ensuing photograph by Souza captures the moment that Obama lowers his head so Jacob could feel his hair.[3]

Carlton's other son, Isaac, asked Obama about the cancellation of production of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet and was told that it was financially unviable.[4] The questions were asked as the family was about to leave Obama; the boys' parents had not known what their children were going to ask him, and Souza himself was surprised at this moment. Souza's surprise is reflected in the composition of the photograph with Jacob Philadelphia's arm obscuring his face, the blurring of his brother Isaac, and in the heads of the boys' parents being cut off by the framing of the image.[4]

Obama subsequently proffered his head to Edwin Caleb, a first grader in 2014 who remarked that he had short hair like his in a visit to Clarence Tinker Elementary School at MacDill Air Force Base.[5]

Impact[edit]

Michelle Obama, Obama's wife, said at a subsequent fundraising event that the photograph was the only one that remained permanently on display at the White House with other images being on display periodically. Michelle felt that the image was symbolic of political progress in civil rights for African Americans telling her audience that "I want you to think of that little Black boy in the Oval Office of the White House touching the head of the first Black President".[3]

Julia M. Klein, writing in the Chicago Tribune, described the photograph as reminding "us of the symbolic heft of this breakthrough presidency" as "cogently as photographs of Obama beside the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial".[6] Jackie Calmes writing in The New York Times in 2012 described the popularity of the photo as "tangible evidence" that "Obama remains a potent symbol for blacks, with a deep reservoir of support".[4] Obama's advisor David Axelrod had a framed image of the photograph in his office. Axelrod felt that the photograph showed that the "child could be thinking, 'Maybe I could be here someday'. This can be such a cynical business, and then there are moments like that that just remind you that it's worth it." Philadelphia's father said in 2012 interview with The New York Times that "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".[4]

TIME magazine described it as "the most iconic" of all Souza's images of Obama.[1] Souza described the image in a 2017 interview as "kind of a grab shot" but that "it just tells you a lot about him as a person that he would not only be willing to bend down like that but have this little boy touch his head". Obama's interactions with children provided a welcome break from his working day according to Souza.[1]

The photograph was included in Souza's 2017 book of photographs of Obama's presidency, Obama: An Intimate Portrait: The Historic Presidency in Photographs, published by Allen Lane.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d Olivier Laurent and Julia Lull (January 19, 2017). "The Story Behind One of President Obama's Most Touching Photographs". TIME. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  2. ^ Pete Souza (November 14, 2017). Obama: An Intimate Portrait: The Historic Presidency in Photographs. Penguin Books. pp. 61–. ISBN 978-0-14-198811-5.
  3. ^ a b c F. Erik Brooks; Glenn L. Starks (April 18, 2019). African Americans and the Presidents: Politics and Policies from Washington to Trump. ABC-CLIO. pp. 256–. ISBN 978-1-4408-6212-0.
  4. ^ a b c d e Jackie Calmes (May 23, 2012). "When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State". The New York Times. Retrieved July 24, 2020.
  5. ^ The Washington Post (December 20, 2016). Obama's Legacy. Diversion Books. pp. 40–. ISBN 978-1-63576-057-6.
  6. ^ a b Julia M. Klein (November 1, 2017). "Obama photographer Pete Souza paints 'Intimate Portrait' of president, from fist bumps to phone calls". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved July 24, 2020.