Perversely, having Barack Obama in the White House seemingly helps perpetuate white supremacy’s continued existence, both by highlighting that individual people of color can attain great heights, and by providing a focal point for anecdotal, individual acts of racial oppression. As Michelle Alexander wrote in The New Jim Crow, “The current system of control depends on black exceptionalism; it is not disproved or undermined by it.” The orgy of exceptionalism tales highlighted every Black History Month can undermine seeing the systemic oppressions still facing African Americans. Alexander describes this very phenomena while trying to make sense of the incarceration crisis in the age of Obama:
Black success stories lend credence to the notion that anyone, no matter how poor or how black you may be, can make it to the top, if only you try hard enough. These stories “prove” that race is no longer relevant. Whereas black success stories undermined the logic of Jim Crow, they actually reinforce the system of mass incarceration. Mass incarceration depends for its legitimacy on the widespread belief that all those who appear trapped at the bottom actually chose their fate.