NEW YORK—A shocking study released Thursday by sociologists at Columbia University found that more than 12 instances of racism occurred in 2011, suggesting not only that prejudice based on the color of one's skin still exists, but that it remains disturbingly prevalent in modern American society.
The unexpectedly high number, determined by analyzing firsthand accounts from across the nation, came as an unwelcome surprise to researchers, who had been operating under the commonly held assumption that bigotry on such a massive scale was a distant relic of the past.
"This simply does not happen—not in this day and age," said researcher Matthew Price, admitting he still had trouble believing the results despite spending weeks rechecking the data to confirm the number was indeed in the double digits. "I can understand one, possibly two racially charged comments uttered in the heat of the moment, and then quickly recounted and apologized for; people make mistakes, after all. But more than a dozen? That's inconceivable."
"Maybe in the Deep South back in the '60s, but not in the 21st century, and certainly not in America," Price added.
Describing the data as "extremely worrisome," the research team detailed a staggering five occasions on which white people walked faster after noticing a black teenager walking behind them, three instances of a clerk watching black customers extra carefully to make sure they didn't steal anything, and as many as two incidents in which black drivers' vehicles were unfairly targeted for searches by the police.
In the only high profile event of its kind, an intoxicated man at a Plano, TX bar openly declared that President Obama, who is of African descent, should "go back to Kenya where he belongs," spurring a swift investigation by the Secret Service.
"Our worst fear is that these are merely symptoms of a larger epidemic to come," said sociologist Tara Montgomery, who with her colleagues hypothesized that, a half-century after the Civil Rights Era, skin color would have no effect on the way people treated one another. "Logically, there shouldn't even be one act of racism, but we counted 12—and we have to assume there were more than that, because our study only recorded outward displays and was unable to measure the hate people feel inside."
"We can only hope 2011 isn't indicative of an upward trend," she added. "Otherwise, we could see instances of race-based bigotry skyrocket to more than 15. Possibly even 20."
In a nation that has the distinction of being the first Western democracy to elect a black person as its leader, sociologists have been hard-pressed to explain the strikingly high figure.
Some theorize the 12 acts of bigotry must all have been carried out by individuals suffering from profound and debilitating mental illnesses. However, the study attributed at least two of the infractions to the Presnall family of Hainesville, IL, whose members are widely believed to possess full command of their cognitive faculties while simply remaining "a bunch of racist assholes."
"A dozen acts of racial prejudice is entirely inexcusable, but we believe that number puts the problem just barely within the threshold of being manageable," Montgomery said. "Which is why it is imperative we take concrete steps to address racism before it becomes a national crisis."