Smart move by Airbnb. Hopeful; the NAACP can help in vexing this natty problem…
Airbnb certainly can’t look to the DOJ for help- Indeed, it is likely the current DOJ leadership will come down on the side of the bigots.
And improve outreach to black communities
Airbnb and the NAACP announced a partnership today to promote the rental service’s platform in communities of color. The move is a way to both boost the sharing economy as an income stream for black Americans and help increase the diversity of hosts to curb discrimination. Airbnb has grappled for years now with racism on its platform, with hosts discriminating against people of color and other minorities both in the US and abroad when deciding who they permit to rent their homes or apartments.
In many cases, racist hosts will deny rental applications from black users or claim the property is booked on the selected dates, only to turn around and rent the property to a white user or leave the dates unbooked. In response to an increasing number of cases documented on social media, Airbnb user Quirtina Crittenden coined the hashtag #airbnbwhileblack last year. It quickly went viral, prompting an outpouring of personal accounts that quickly turned into an public relations nightmare for Airbnb.
This new measure, along with the added assistance of the NAACP, is a signal that Airbnb is continuing to take its fight against racism seriously. “Our fastest-growing communities across major US cities are in communities of color and we’ve seen how home sharing is an economic lifeline for families,” Belinda Johnson, Airbnb’s chief business affairs officer, said in a statement. “This partnership will build on this incredible progress. The NAACP is unrivaled in its tireless work to expand economic opportunities for minority communities and we look forward to collaborating with their talented team.”
As part of the partnership, the NAACP will help Airbnb target communities that could benefit greatly for home-sharing services and the tourism and additional income they provide. Airbnb will also gift 20 percent of its earnings from rentals in these communities to the NAACP, which will return the favor by aiding the company in its workplace diversity efforts. “For too long, black people and other communities of color have faced barriers to access new technology and innovations,” Derrick Johnson, the interim president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement. “This groundbreaking partnership with Airbnb will help bring new jobs and economic opportunities to our communities.”
For Airbnb, the existence of racism on its platform is both a PR disaster and a severe economic risk. Last year, the company narrowly avoided a potentially damaging racial discrimination case brought by Greg Selden. Selden, a black man, duped a racist host into accepting an application from a fake account with a white person’s photo after denying his original application, and he sued Airbnb claiming it violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Thanks to a specific clause in its Terms of Service agreement, Airbnb was able to move that case to individual arbitration and avoid a class action suit. Nonetheless, the company released a new non-discrimination policy it calls “The Airbnb Community Commitment” back in October of last year that it makes hosts agree to, and it’s also ramped up efforts to weed out racist hosts and build better protections for users.
Despite those efforts, instances of flagrant racism continue to flare up on Airbnb and make international headlines. Earlier this month, a 26-year-old law clerk named Dyne Suh documented, in a video posted to YouTube, her interactions with host Tami Barker of Big Bear, California. Barker, upon learning that Suh was Asian-American, sent a series of racism-fueled texts saying she was canceling Suh’s reservation because of her ethnicity.
Airbnb promptly banned Barker, refunded Suh, and covered the cost of replacement accommodations, while the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) stepped in to fine Barker $5,000 and order that she take an Asian-American studies class. The DFEH now has the ability to investigate Airbnb hosts in California with more than three listings for racial discrimination following a landmark agreement with Airbnb in April.
Still, Airbnb can’t possibly regulate the behavior of every one of its hosts every hour of the day. A better solution, it appears, is to simply cater to communities where this discrimination doesn’t occur, and to increase the diversity of hosts to ensure more minorities feel comfortable using Airbnb when they travel.