Black President, White Hands?

Turns out everyone’s favorite cardboard president is not our president at all.


None of the sellers I spoke with had any idea they were hawking a two-tone President Obama. I myself planted a juicy photographed kiss on “Barack” at The Root Inaugural Ball before realizing the error.

Bleisath, of specialty retailer S.A.B., was sheepish when he took a close look at the hands. “This is the first that I’ve heard of it actually,” he said. Campbell, of the A. Boyd Company, added, “I haven’t had anybody notice.” Ofir Zahavi, owner of a Los Angeles boutique specializing in celebrity cutouts and other entertainment memorabilia, said he, too, failed to realize that the hands on the cutout are too white for our black prez. “I would like to take the fifth on that,” he said.

Most of these companies, however, sell realistic full-length images of dozens of other politicians, even going back to 1992-era Bill and Hillary Clinton (a more recent version of the latter cutout made the news back in December after an Obama staffer was caught groping it).

So why not take the time to find a black body for Barack? “I think it may have been sloppy,” says Campbell. “That’s just a stock image, a stock body that they had.” Again, Advance Graphics declined to give a direct answer. Apparently, finding a generic photograph of a black man in a suit was too much to handle out in Utah. The Root’s attempts to figure out who might be the source body proved fruitless. Though we suspect it could be Health and Human Services Secretary and former Senate majority leader Tom Daschle, who wears glasses rather like the ones cutout Obama is holding. Late on Friday, after repeated questioning from The Root, Advance Graphics hastily added a clearly black Barack—with and without podium—to its Web site, promising that the properly tinted cutouts are “Coming Soon.”

White hands or not, Obama’s brown cardboard head with megawatt smile seems to have nearly the same star power as the real prez. The Associated Press reported the two-dimensional president bringing cheer to a New Jersey funeral home. One Amazon review praised the cutout for thrilling seniors at an assisted living facility: “Women changed their wigs, and men took off their oxygen masks just to have a nice picture with the cutout,” the buyer wrote. In Troy, N.Y., the stand-up won over customers at a self-described “working class bar”—prompting one local writer to ask: “Who says Obama has a problem with blue collar voters?”

Not all encounters have been fun-loving. In the ugly weeks before the general election, a group of students in Oregon hung an Obama cutout in effigy from a tree. But most public gatherings around the cutout have been exceedingly celebratory. On Inauguration Day in Trafalgar Square in London, Obama lovers, “from Ramsgate, Romania, Australia and Eritrea, China, Vietnam and the U.S.,” fawned over the cutout, according to British newspaper The Guardian, which reported that onlookers “are united by their delighted response to Obama: They point, they kiss, they hug, they look up at his cutout face with an expression of awe and admiration, they stand beside him throwing a variety of poses, from the peace sign to the good ol’ thumbs up. ‘I want him!’ cries one lady, clutching his cardboard arm. ‘Give him to me!’ ”

Relax. He’s ours. In cardboard and in real life.

But what to do with the hundreds of white-handed Obamas traveling the global party circuit? Que sera, sera. We know the real deal. One excited Amazon customer wrote last week that, while he was unsure about what he would do with the cutout after his planned inauguration watch party, he was comforted by the new, steady hands at the nation’s helm. Yes. Black hands.

Dayo Olopade is a Washington reporter for The Root.

See the Obama cutout photo gallery.