New Year, New Haircut, New  President – and the Racial Mirror That Was

January. A new year. Everyone is all excited about kicking goodbye the dumpster fire year of 2016. But are we actually excited to welcome 2017? It is now the month and year that we will inaugurate … that guy. I can’t seem to remember his name.

No matter what your political leanings are, you can certainly understand that any mother of a Black boy will be saddened to see President Obama leave the Oval Office. My son has had a racial mirror in the President of the United States of America for his entire life. I absolutely cannot stress to you how important that has been for our family, and probably for millions of other families. I am overcome with emotion.

(When he was born, his grandma took one look at him and said, “My little Obama!”)

wp-1483411314734.jpgToday was haircut day for my oldest son. For certain sensory reasons, it’s not easy for him. He says he is not ready for a barbershop, so, as always, my husband was cutting our son’s hair in the upstairs bathroom. I thought my twins were playing in their room, but as I reached the top of the stairs, I saw Twin A perched on the toilet lid, holding my oldest’s hand. He was offering his hand of comfort to his distressed brother. No one asked him to do that. A fat little four-year-old white hand holding the shaky brown hand of his six-year-old brother. My heart melted.

The steady hand of his brother calmed my son, and the rest of the haircut went smoothly. They sat like that for about ten minutes, no one saying a word as the clippers buzzed.

There is a now-iconic image of a five-year-old Black boy touching President Obama’s hair in the Oval Office. Have you seen it? President Obama, the leader of the free world, is leaning over to let the boy touch his hair.

Photo credit: Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

I don’t know if the significance of this image can truly cross the racial parenting divide. I am no expert in Black hair, not by any means, but as the mother of a little boy who looks like the one in the picture, I weep every time I see it.

(I was thinking of printing that photo, to hang in our home, but what if I cry every time I walk by it? Hmmm.)

“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.

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

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

Even if you are staunchly anti-Obama, can you see how important this image is to us? Can you walk with me for a moment and feel this? More importantly, can you walk with my son, who sees only white faces in his very own home? Can you imagine what it’s like to be him – or any other Black boy in America whose ancestors were probably slaves – and know that the most powerful man in the world has hair that feels exactly like his?

For eight years we’ve been able to hold up that mirror to our boys: The President of the United States of America looks like you.

And now, in this new year that is supposed to be new and fresh and better, we get to hold up … a man who… not only doesn’t look like our boys, but … nevermind. I can’t.

It was not just hair. It was hope.

 

***

*Source: Calmes, Jackie. “When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State.New York Times. 23 May 2012. Accessed via Web 2 January 2017.

And the Washington Post says it better than I can: Photo Speaks Volumes About Obama and Race.