Race and Technology – Airbnb Steps Up Fight Against Racism

Published On September 28, 2016 | By Tom Huskerson | News and Analysis

AirbnbIn case you haven’t heard Airbnb is not racist. Not at all. But the website is fighting the racism of its users. Again and again racist users of Airbnb have refused accommodations to people of color.

Airbnb is a website that allows people to rent out the extra room in their home to people needing a place to stay. This can be for business or leisure. 

As a result of class actions lawsuits the $25 billion dollar company has taken measures to at least discourage some of the discriminatory activity. As part of its effort to shut down racism, Airbnb will rely less on user photos  and offer anOpen Doorpolicy. Airbnb promises to find guests another place if they feel like they’ve been discriminated against. The company is also instituting a “permanent, full-time product team to fight bias and promote diversity.

Another step by the company includes the addition of new flagging tools that allow users to quickly report discrimination or hate speech.  Airbnb is also providing training to help hosts tackle the toughest of all discriminatory behavior, unconscious bias. After completing this training Airbnb will highlight that hosts accommodations on the platform. 

Airbnb has confirmed, through research, the complaints of its customers. The company issued a 34 page report detailing discrimination by hosts. The report also confirmed claims that Airbnb ignored complaints by minorities of discrimination. The report found that Airbnb users “did not receive the timely, compassionate response they expected and deserved.”

One black man that experienced this treatment is Gregory Selden. Seldon filed a complaint against the startup in May.  According to Seldon an Airbnb host denied him accommodations after he booked using his personal profile which included his picture.  However the reservation was accepted when he applied using two fake profiles of white men. Selden went to Airbnb with the issue, but he claims the company ignored him.

Airbnb service falls under federal civil rights law. That means that users homes are legally pubic accommodations. According to attorney Ike Emerjuru “AirBnB serves essentially the same function as a hotel. We are confident that there are numerous persons out there who will potentially join the class.”

Other stories of similar discriminatory treatment have appeared on Twitter with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. A Harvard University study last year revealed that Airbnb hosts are less likely to rent to people with “black” sounding names.

The report also revealed that like many tech companies AirBnB suffers from a severe lack of diversity.

Breaking It Down

Racism is a fundamental and inherit by product of fear. It is quite natural that a person can experience fear of the unknown and tolerating fear in one’s home is unacceptable. I have nothing against people who, through fear or ignorance, are unwilling to allow some people into their homes. Its called self preservation.

Holiday Inn, Hyatt and Hilton are in the business of selling a space to sleep. According to the law these are public accommodations and thus must be made available to all. For those people who are offering rooms and accommodations through Airbnb you are the equal of a Hilton or Hyatt. You are selling a place to sleep. You have one room they have millions but the business is the same.

If you don’t want black people or people of color in your home that is fine. Just don’t use Airbnb. Its actually an easy fix. As black people we are no more willing to be there in your home if we are not wanted. We are happy to take our money elsewhere.

You are welcome to find other channels to offer this space to “Whites Only” if that is what you desire. Its your home. Do that if you please. But you are making a grave error if you think you can use Airbnb to make a buck off that extra room while hanging out the “White Only” shingle.

Those folks at Airbnb made the mistake of ignoring the obvious discrimination by and to its users and they definitely need to make amends. I see Airbnb as being caught in the middle and confused as to the proper response so they froze. The bottom line they are in this mess because of poor leadership. So if you are fearful of what a person of color may do while sleeping in your home then make life easier for everyone and just get off Airbnb. Trust me, everyone will thank you.


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About The Author

Tom Huskerson Bio Born in Richmond Virginia Tom Huskerson is a military veteran who settled in California after his discharge. He attended Santa Barbara City College where he began his writing career as a campus reporter. He worked as an intern news reporter for the Santa Barbara News-Press writing feature stories before moving on to San Francisco. At San Francisco State University Tom studied broadcast communications and began to focus on the Internet. He completed his graduate thesis on Internet advertising. Tom was the first student to ever focus on the Internet as a graduate student at San Francisco State University. After graduation he went to work for Zona Research in California’s Silicone Valley. As a research associate Tom supported senior analyst writing on the latest developments in the Internet industry. During the dot com boom Tom worked for several web businesses as a market researcher and analyst. As a writer and researcher Tom has authored various technical works including a training program for Charles Schwab security. Other projects included professional presentations on workplace violence and hiring security contractors. Tom has returned to focus on writing both fiction and non-fiction works and blogging for a travel website. He has published two books of short stories and completed two novels. Tom is the owner of Scribe of Life Literature and EbonyCandle. Most recently Tom has launched the blog African American Cyber Report. The blog is the result of his desire to inform the African American community of the dangers and benefits of the cyber age. In his blog Tom reports on information security, new and analysis, scams and hoaxes, legal happenings and various topics that arise from the age of information. Tom believes that technology is a necessary tool for black people and they should know what is happening. Tom writes believing that techno speak is for the professional and that valuable information can be communicated using plain language. As a result he has embraced the motto, Less Tech, More Knowledge.

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