#AirbnbWhileBlack, Airbnb, All Day, Social Activism, Twitter -

Airbnb: Sorry for being racist But we’re not changing the major problem

#AirbnbWhileBlack, Airbnb, All Day, Social Activism, Twitter -

Airbnb: Sorry for being racist But we’re not changing the major problem

Don’t ever think a hashtag can’t affect change. Ever since #AirbnbWhileBlack took over Twitter a while back, it’s been an open secret that the online marketplace for rental properties was a place rife for discrimination of all sorts, much like the rest of the world. Who knew! On Thursday, the company released a plan to try to combat said problems, one that got former Attorney General Eric Holder involved.

There’s a lot to unpack here, pardon the pun. No. 1 is where this company began. Created in San Francisco, initially out of a desire to raise rent money, it blossomed into a full-blown startup with its founder Joe Gebbia even using his own site as a way to live for some while. But then it suffered from a classic case of not having enough people in the room.

The whole story is a fascinating case of implicit bias and an even better case study on how income inequality, even in 2016, affects leisure services and businesses in ways that make it feel more like the 1950s. Two years ago, Harvard Business School students examined this issue in a paper called “Digital Discrimination.”

“The raw data show that nonblack and black hosts receive strikingly different rents: roughly $144 vs. $107 per night, on average,” they wrote. “Nonblack hosts earn roughly 12 percent more for a similar apartment with similar ratings and photos relative to black hosts.” Of course, there’s a lot of math, regression models and analysis that brings them to such a conclusion. Basically, people are willing to pay more to not stay at a black person’s place.

Not to be forgotten is the issue of being denied a room, anecdotally, based on race. The problem was so bad that competing businesses entirely popped up to solve the problem.


As for what Airbnb is doing to improve, you have to wonder how effective the changes will be. There’s one fundamental issue that has not changed: The company is not eliminating pictures from profiles. Yes, there’s a safety mechanism involved in such a process, but theoretically, that could all be done privately to make bookings happen. By not changing the dynamic on the “what do you look like” level, all the same potential for discrimination is still there, even if you’ve finally admitted your service has a problem and there’s a mechanism to tell on people, so to speak.

It’s a good effort, and apparently an honest one, albeit from Airbnb. But with this nation’s history of housing discrimination, both legal and otherwise, the company has a chance to serve as a vessel for a discussion that a lot of people don’t feel comfortable having. It’s a lot more direct and a tad easier to digest than, say, the effects of redlining from yesteryear. But you’ve got to let everyone through the door, first.

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