In May 2009, 5-year-old Jacob Philadelphia was visiting the White House with his father, a former Marine who was leaving his 2-year stint working for the National Security Council as part of the White House staff. The father asked to take a family photo with the president and before they left the Oval Office Jacob had a question for the President.
“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” Jacob asked Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to repeat his question.
After the picture was taken Jacob told his parents he had a question for the President. His parents asked if Jacob could ask a question and he processed to ask Obama if his hair was like his.
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.
“Touch it, dude!” Obama said.