Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Following Controversy, Airbnb Reviews Anti-Discrimination Policy


Recent media reports reveal that Airbnb is doing a poor job of educating its hosts about the Fair Housing Act. And a study published in January found that requests for Airbnb lodging from people with “distinctively African-American” names were about 16 percent less likely to be accepted than “identical guests with distinctively white names.”

Airbnb now plans to do a “comprehensive review” of its anti-discrimination policy, the Washington Post reported last week, citing a memo the company sent “some concerned users and organizations” on Thursday. That is a good thing considering Airbnb’s recent troubles, including a lawsuit in which a 25-year-old Virginia resident, Gregory Selden, alleges he experienced racial discrimination by an Airbnb host.

Laura Murphy, a former head of the Washington D.C. branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), has been brought in to lead the review, the Post reports. Airbnb plans to announce the findings of the review in September. A company spokesperson told the Post: “We can't control all the biases of all of our users but we want to make clear that discrimination is against everything we stand for.”

The lawsuit by Selden is not the only trouble Airbnb faces regarding racial discrimination. A North Carolina man was removed from Airbnb after telling a Nigerian student he canceled her lodging request because “I hate n---rs,” and preceded to make it clear just how racist he is in a string of other messages.

A classmate of the 28-year-old Nigerian woman, who attends the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, revealed what happened in a blog post. To protect her anonymity, the classmate referred to her as Jane Doe. Jane needed a place to stay while visiting Charlotte, North Carolina, so she searched on Airbnb. A Charlotte host the classmate identified as Todd Warner was ready to grant Jane’s request for lodging until he realized, based on her profile picture, that she is black. Jane contacted Airbnb, which was “quick to respond” by removing Warner, refunding the money Jane paid and even offering to pay for her lodging with another host, the classmate wrote in her blog.

Jane told her classmate that she hopes Airbnb screens more: “screen the hosts, screen the language that passes through the platform,” she said. “The repercussions of the actions of such ill-minded individuals is a huge detriment to these companies,” she added.

But Jane and Selden aren't alone. Rohan Gilkes tried to find lodging in a small town in Idaho and wrote a blog post about his experience. After being turned down, his white friend successfully booked the same lodging. So, Gilkes decided to take action and founded an inclusive space-sharing platform Noirebnb, which hit the Web this week. He told Buzzfeed Noirebnb will be fully launched in a few weeks.

Noirebnb is another response to racial discrimination associated with Airbnb. Although possessing a similar name, Stefan Grant and Ronnia Cherry founded their platform before Gilkes. While staying in a Decatur, Georgia space booked through Airbnb, neighbors called the police because they “suspected them of robbing the house,”  Buzzfeed reported. They contacted Airbnb but Cherry said, “They opened their doors and ears to us, but I don’t think it was as much a priority within the company.”

Airbnb states on its site that it prohibits “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.” Those laws include the Fair Housing Act, which “prohibits housing providers from discriminating against applicants or residents because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status.”

Image credit: Flickr/tommypjr

Gina-Marie Cheeseman headshot

Gina-Marie is a freelance writer and journalist armed with a degree in journalism, and a passion for social justice, including the environment and sustainability. She writes for various websites, and has made the 75+ Environmentalists to Follow list by Mashable.com.

Read more stories by Gina-Marie Cheeseman