The boy who touched the president’s hair

Updated
The boy who touched the president's hair
The boy who touched the president's hair
Peter Souza - White House

As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But sometimes it can leave an impression that’s impossible to articulate. And that’s what the picture above did for me.

We’re so excited to have the subjects of that unforgettable photo — the Philadelphia family — on tonight’s show.

According to his dad, Jacob has had a thing for Obama’s hair ever since he became president. Every time Jacob would go to the barber he would ask for his hair to be cut just like the president’s. So when at the age of five he had the opportunity to meet and ask Obama a question, his parents weren’t all that surprised when he said, “I want to know if my hair is just like yours.”

Instead of simply explaining that yes, they’re similar, the president bent over and let Jacob feel it for himself.

Hair is a complex and intimate topic within the black community. It’s yet another physical feature that makes us “other.” Washington Post columnist Jonathan Capehart wrote an excellent piece about it:

“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 from Newark to a predominantly white town in New Jersey. I would learn at school that some would rub the 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.”

Sometimes it’s still surreal for me to see the first daughters rocking some twists or cornrows. It gives me this odd sense of pride, knowing little black girls can look to Sasha and Malia just as I look to the first lady. Just as Jacob looked to the president.

It’s that familial connection that speaks to me in this photo. Capehart summed it up perfectly:

“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.”

Barack Obama

The boy who touched the president's hair

Updated