Most of us know that booking a place on AirBnB is a gamble. Since I found out about the service three years ago, there have been ups, downs, and way downs. What looks like a peaceful cottage online can end up being a trap house in real life. Customer service is pretty frustrating and many hosts leave much to be desired. Listing accuracy is a toss up. The only consistent feature across the platform is casual anti-Blackness. Honestly, subtle racism should be listed as an amenity at this point. Not to mention, the worst offenders are often the so-called allies.
Ever heard of Brian Chesky? He’s the CEO of AirBnB. Like any good businessman, he just wants to keep making money. Racism was making him lose customers, so naturally, he banned racism on AirBnB. It’s a chapter straight out of the pacify Black folks playbook. His claims are basically as worthless as the Emancipation Proclamation speech performed by President Lincoln: sounds good, but does nothing to address the ills mentioned. Well played, non-threatening boy-Becky. That’ll show the institution of white supremacy!
AirBnB is riddled with policies that are ignored by hosts, so why would we trust their CEO? For instance, AirBnB has a policy on safety that states: “Make a first aid kit easily available.” Sounds simple, but I have never even heard a host mention first aid or safety. The site also encourages its hosts to promote their place accurately. I can say for sure that I didn’t see “roach infestation” mentioned in the listing when I booked a room in California last summer, but sure enough, when I pulled back the cover, I was welcomed by a family of brown bugs ranging from small to oh-dear-God-this-is-the-night-I-die sized.
So why is this about race if AirBnB is a general hot mess all-around?
Time after time after time AirBnB actively participates in rejecting both Black travelers and Black hosts while welcoming white ones with open arms. #AirBnBwhileBlack is often trending because the problem has not been solved. This covert racism is apparently still as American as apple pie. Even for those of us who make it to a booked room, there are still obstacles. Belonging to the group that W.E.B. DuBois called the Talented Tenth does not shield us. Looking and acting like a good negro doesn’t stop hosts from saying things like “your hair looks so much prettier in person” (online hair: afro, in-person hair: blonde Taylor Swift wig) or “I grew up with a lot of friends from the projects” (in response to me saying I live in New York–mind you, I stayed near West Point).
A Harvard Business School study provided damning evidence of AirBnB’s subtle racism, noting that “guests with distinctively African-American names were about 16% less likely to be accepted by hosts than identical guests with distinctively white names”. Some victims of discrimination have taken legal action against the company. It is absolutely hilarious that in the face of all this proof of discrimination, AirBnB keeps making claims that it will solve the issue–without any many of structural anti-Blackness. AirBnB forces users to sign an agreement saying that they won’t sue. This is completely antithetical to the company’s assertion that it will not tolerate racism.
We shouldn’t be surprised, though.
The only remedy for this strain of racism is complete withdrawal. Maybe if we give our money to a company that actually respects us, they’ll change the way they operate. And if not, oh well. Emerging businesses like Black-owned NoirBnB seem like a better alternative.
Of course, we could also go back to expensive hotels in the meantime. But who wants to do that?