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Study: Airbnb Hosts Racially Discriminates Against Guests with African-American Sounding Names

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A new study by Harvard Business School (HBS) reports that Airbnb hosts discriminate against people with names that sound African-American.

Bloomberg Business reports that HBS researchers set up 6,400 fake profiles of Airbnb guests and assigned them stereotypically white or Black names, based on Massachusetts birth certificate data from the 1970s. Airbnb hosts decide whom they want to rent to. Requests from white guests got “yes” responses 50 percent of the time, versus 42 percent for Black applicants, according to the study.

Names like Lakisha or Rasheed were roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with names like Brent or Kristen reported The New York Times.

“Life is tough if you’re a black guest on Airbnb,” said Ben Edelman, an associate professor at HBS and one of the study’s authors, to Bloomberg Business. “Particularly when you compare it to the baseline of the way things used to be. If you’re a black guest, you just make a reservation at the Marriott.”

Recent research shows that Airbnb isn’t the only online service that has shown racial discrimination toward African-Americans. In this instance, users pass judgment on businesses based on the neighborhood’s location.

According the article “The Omnivore’s Neighborhood? Online Restaurant Reviews, Race, and Gentrification,” published in the Journal of Consumer Culture, most Yelp reviewers feel positive about white neighborhoods, where they consider the traditional Polish restaurants “authentic” and “cozy,” while they feel negative about the Black neighborhood, which they criticize for a dearth of dining options and an atmosphere of dirt and danger. NBC News reports that reviewers used terms like “sketchy,” “hood” and “ghetto” to describe the neighborhood.

Business Insider reported that the results of the HBS study shows that it doesn’t matter if the host was white or African-American, if they were sharing the place or not, or whether it was expensive or cheap. On all levels, African-American sounding names had a harder time booking a room.

These results have one author of the study suggesting a simple solution: Don’t require users to reveal their names. The prejudice behind Airbnb hosts’ selection process isn’t clear, but one report suggests a common motive.

The study called “Looming large in others’ eyes: Racial stereotypes illuminate dual adaptations for representing threat versus prestige as physical size,” published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, found that whites are more likely to perceive men with Black-sounding names as dangerous, violent and physically large when compared to people with stereotypically white-sounding names.

“The participant sample, despite being slightly left of center politically, automatically attributed violence to individuals based solely on having names like Darnell or Juan; whereas names such as Connor automatically led to expectations of prestige and status,” the lead author of the report, Dr. Holbrook, told the Huffington Post. “This seems to clearly echo the fear of black and Latino men in our society, which is ironic and disturbing as they are often the victims of violence–precisely because people are afraid of them.”

“We are committed to making Airbnb one of the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent communities in the world,” a company spokesperson told Huffington Post in response to the publication of the research.

The spokesperson states that they are in touch with the authors of the study and plan to continue a dialogue with them.

“We recognize that bias and discrimination are significant challenges, and we welcome the opportunity to work with anyone that can help us reduce potential discrimination in the Airbnb community.”

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