A website where just about anyone anywhere can rent out space in their own home for weekend travelers; what could go wrong? Apparently a lot of racism.
I guess we gotta start back at the beginning of the story when, last October, Stefan Grant posted an image to Twitter.
It was brightly lit, jovial and it showed himself grinning into the camera alongside another young black man with a broad smile and two thumbs up. Behind them are trees, the outline of a house, and a pair of policemen; also smiling.
“Yo!” the caption reads. “The Air B&B we’re staying at is so nice, the neighbors thought we were robbing the place & called the cops!”
Check it below:
Grant, who raps and produces under the name “StefIsDope,” was visiting Atlanta to play a show at the A3C Music Festival & Conference. He and four of his friends had booked a place to stay on AirBnB(a quiet suburban home with granite kitchen counter tops and a welcoming backyard).
The group had been there for a single day when the police showed up, thanks to a neighbor that had noticed the group hanging out and felt compelled to report a “robbery underway.”
The story blew up in the mainstream media, while Grant’s tweet was recirculated nearly 3,000 times. Airbnb offered the group free future bookings and a month later, they flew Grant and his friend, Ronnia Cherry, to AirBnB headquarters in San Francisco to discuss discrimination.
After the summary meeting and a few follow-up emails, nothing else seemed to happen. The story was slipping away, something Grant wasn’t prepared to let happen.
“I think because the story had kind of died down a little bit, they thought it would just go away on its own,” Grant says. “But we told them, hey guys, our story isn’t an isolated case. It has happened, it is happening, and it will happen again. And it will probably get worse.”
It’s a key concern for the company, especially after a recent lawsuit regarding racial discrimination, but the allegations aren’t limited to race. Shadi Petosky, a trans woman, tweeted earlier this year about an Airbnb host that denied her a reservation last year after she revealed her gender.
— Shadi Petosky (@shadipetosky) June 5, 2016
Airbnb has publicly condemned discrimination, but fixing it has proven much tougher. It can’t be debunked like a hotel industry report or lobbied away like restrictive rental regulations because essentially it is AirBnB user against AirBnB user.
A study from the JPMorgan Chase Institute found that people who rent out assets on “capital” platforms such as Airbnb tend to have slightly higher earnings than the typical American. The Harvard study, which sampled hosts from Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington, DC, noted that 63 percent of hosts were white and only 8 percent black.
What does that mean exactly? Well, based on the study, and the multitude of data within, it means that in the best case scenario an overwhelming percentage of hosts on these sites are more likely to treat non-white and/or non-wealthy guests as outsiders, and worst case is straight up discrimination.
After her tweet about her experience went viral, Petosky says Airbnb reached out to her to reiterate that it took discrimination seriously. “It really felt like lip service,” she says. “They didn’t even send a fruit basket.”