So now that Airbnb has addressed its problems with widespread racial discrimination, can black folks feel comfortable booking lodging through the online rental operation?
The jury is still out.
Airbnb introduced several changes last week to directly confront racial discrimination after numerous African-American customers complained about being rejected for rental rooms because they were Black.
The San Francisco-based company issued a 32-page report vowing to implement a new policy requiring users to agree to a “community commitment” starting on Nov. 1. The “commitment” asks that people renting rooms embrace all customers regardless of race, sexual orientation or age.
The proposal of a “commitment” could prove to be a challenge in a culturally polarized America where racial tension has escalated as a result of Republican Donald Trump’s bid for the White House.
Last year, Harvard University said customers with African-American-sounding names were refused rooms for rent while whites looking for the same rooms were granted access.
Gregory Seldes, who is African-American, filed a class action suit against Airbnb, claiming that he was refused a room because he is Black.
“While Airbnb did not accept all of the recommendations we offered, they did thoughtfully consider them, and this report is evidence of that,” Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which advised on the report, told reporters.
Good, but here’s my concern: While Airbnb moved quickly to address the problem, the response essentially boils down to an honor system for people renting rooms to guests. I’m not convinced that folks will voluntarily do what’s right.
How can Airbnb actually regulate discrimination with 60 million guests in more than 34,000 cities? And what are the penalties for violating the company’s “commitment?” Airbnb hired a team of experts to eradicate bias through bookings but only time will tell if their efforts are effective.
It’s extremely difficult to police discrimination with this kind of heavy online traffic.
“There have been too many unacceptable instances of people being discriminated against on the Airbnb platform because of who they are or what they look like,” Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, wrote in the report.
Black Caucus Chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC), Congressman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO), and Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) released a joint statement praising Airbnb.
“The Congressional Black Caucus commends Airbnb and its CEO, Brian Chesky, for taking this significant first step to address racial discrimination and exclusion of African-Americans and other minorities on the company’s platform,” said Butterfield, who serves as co-chair of the CBC Diversity Taskforce. “We appreciate the opportunity to voice our concerns and provide recommendations on earlier reports, and the company’s willingness and efforts to take the issue of discrimination seriously.”
Lee said she is pleased with Airbnb’s efforts.
“I’m encouraged by Airbnb’s efforts to address racial discrimination and abuse,” added Congresswoman Lee, a co-chair of the CBC Diversity Taskforce. “Today’s report displays a real and serious commitment to serving all people. This report is an important first step that I’m confident will be followed by further action.”
I’ll withhold the applause for now and wait to see how this all plays out.