By now I've seen this image a dozen times. It tells a story far beyond words doesn't it? Today (May 30, 2012) the New York Times tells the story behind the picture. Carlton Philadelphia, An African American member of the National Security Council was done with his term (which interestingly enough began under Bush) and visited the White House for a family photo-op with the President. He told the President his children each wanted to ask him a question. The youngest one you see in the picture above wanted to know whether the President's hair was like his:
“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, [White House Photographer] Mr. [Pete] Souza snapped.
“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.
"Yes, it does feel the same," Jacob said.
Noting his own feelings about the moment Mr. Philadelphia noted how important it was for black children to see a President that looks like them, because of the aspirational value. I get that. I know I feel differently about the President than I did before, even though I consider myself a critic.
However, with that said I think that Mr. Philadelphia misses a three things. First, if he followed through on the logic of his statement, we wouldn't have a President Obama in the first place–if Obama needed to see someone like him in the position he would have never run. Second, that it isn't just that black kids need to see him…in fact I'd make the argument (even given my own changed sentiment) that white kids need to see him do his thing more than black kids do. Third, whatever effect being in office has on Obama, I'd suggest the effect isn't as strong on black children as it is on black boys. Again, holding fast to the logic, black boys can now be whatever they want. Not necessarily black girls.
On a somewhat related note, I've noted my disappointment with the way President Obama talks about black families and families in general. The more I think about his statements about gay marriage the more I have a problem with the way Obama consistently uses family concerns to make larger political claims. In this case he allegedly changes his mind on same-sex marriage because he has encountered parents of kids his daughter attends school with. Seeing them, and presumably seeing how similar they are to "us" changed his mind.
What's going on with this specific issue that he couldn't have changed his mind because it is wrong to differentially allocate rights? Why did he need to know same sex couples are "just like us?" On occasion after occasion Obama takes a down home family oriented approach to policy making. I find it politically distasteful for a number of reasons including the fact that it seems to narrow our political possibilities.
In other news after a long hard fight that lasted some 11 years or so I was recommended for tenure. Will write about it soon.