There have many accounts of Airbnb racism and discrimination popping up lately, from personal narratives to Ivy League studies, or most recently, the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. While I’m sure we all know many layers of discrimination exist, the most prominent disparities exist for – you guessed it – us black folk. Not only do we have a harder time booking rooms based on profile pictures or having “black sounding names” (yes, in 2016), but black hosts also have a harder time getting booked at market prices and having their neighborhoods deemed “undesirable”.
As a black woman who is no stranger to racism (and who just so happened to have her first Airbnb experience with a white family a few days ago), I decided to write my thoughts on navigating racism for the best Airbnb experience.
Message the host about the nature of your stay. Many people deny visitors based off their own ideas of what they’ll be like or why they’re coming in the first place. For example (this goes for any race), a young person looking for a place to host their book club for the night might be assumed to be throwing a big party and get denied. A platonic pair of friends visiting for a music festival may be assumed to be passionate lovers and be denied for that, too. It’s not fair, but it is reality. The more information you actually give, the less fallacious assumptions they can make on their own.
Change your profile picture or biography to hide your race, ethnicity, religion, age, tattoos, hair, sexual orientation, etc. Yes, it sucks to denied a stay based on your identity, but what’s really worse, taking 10 more minutes to find a better host, or tricking a bigot into taking your hard-earned money and spending the night where you aren’t welcome in the first place? If they don’t want your business, do NOT bend over backwards to give it to them.
Message the host to verify that your intended dates available before paying. Sometimes a host will say no or cancel right after you book the stay because they honestly forgot to list their availability that far in advance, or because of an unexpected obligation. Other scenarios may not be so innocent, but at least you saved yourself the money and frustration along the way.
Take anything too personal. If your messages get ignored or you are unfairly denied by a host, don’t threaten them with violence or tell them to kiss your black/brown ass
no matter how much they may deserve it. Cooler heads prevail. Again, it’s much better in the long run to have an unfair cancellation than to strong-arm your way into the home of a racist.
Remain professional if you decide to take action. Let’s say you’ve requested to book a room for Labor Day weekend and the host denies. Two days later, you see the room is back on the market. Message the person again saying something like “Hello! I noticed your room opened back up for the dates MM/YY to MM/YY and I would still love to book!” Chances are they will probably make up another excuse, but you will see the room back on the market within the next 24 hours. That’s enough evidence to email Airbnb about potential discrimination and/or share the story on social media to make others aware.
Let one bad apple spoil the bunch. Yes, there are racists and other bigots of all flavors on Airbnb. Yes, you may run into them yourself or read stories that may anger you to no end. You can’t let that stop you from traveling or believing that there are indeed good people out there. If we all decided to stop visiting every city with a racist citizen, we would barely even have a place to call home (I know I wouldn’t). For every discriminatory Airbnb host out there, there is at least one other host with a heart (and house) of gold.
Leave reviews and make referrals for the positive Airbnb experiences you do encounter. It’s important to let others know that there is just as much good as stupidity in the world!
For the record, Airbnb’s website states “we prohibit content that promotes discrimination, bigotry, racism, hatred, harassment or harm against any individual or group, and we require all users to comply with local laws and regulations”.
Have you booked with Airbnb before? Have you ever experienced racism with the website or while traveling in general?
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