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Congressional Black Caucus Members ‘Deeply Concerned’ by Racism on Airbnb, Push Company CEO to Address the Issue

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Star.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. Photo courtesy of the Kansas City Star.

Amid recent complaints of racial discrimination against African-Americans looking to book rooms on bed and breakfast site Airbnb, members of the Congressional Black Caucus are urging the company’s CEO to do something to address the issue.

Chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) penned a letter to AirBnb Inc. CEO Brian Chesky, inquiring into recent reports of racism and discrimination on the popular booking site. According to NBC News, the two congressman are pressuring Airbnb to conduct a detailed review of the racism allegations.

“As members of Congress and members of the Congressional Black Caucus, we are committed to ensuring African-Americans have the same opportunities available to any other group,” the letter reads. “To that end, we write to share our concerns regarding the recent reports of the exclusion of many African-Americans and other minorities from booking rooms on your site due to their race.”

Butterfield and Cleaver go on to cite Title II of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in public places like hotels and motels, due to one’s race, color, religion, or national origin.

Airbnb found itself in hot water when a number of its hosts began displaying racist behavior, such as outwardly denying accommodations to people of color. Earlier this month, a Black traveler named Shani Taylor documented several offensive remarks made by a white Airbnb host, Atlanta Black Star reported. Taylor later identified the man as Todd Warner.

“I hate n-ggers, so I’m gonna cancel you,” Warner wrote.

Ten minutes later, he followed up with another message that read: “This is the south, darling. Find another place to rest your n—– head.”

Taylor reported the racist comments to Airbnb via Twitter, after which the company deleted Warner’s account.

“Airbnb does not condone discrimination in anyway,” the company tweeted in response. “We take this issue seriously.”

Prior to this incident, Airbnb was slapped with a class-action lawsuit accusing the site of racially discriminating against Black users and violating the Fair Housing Act of 1968. According to Atlanta Black Star, a study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Business School also found that Airbnb hosts tend to discriminate against users who have “African-American sounding” names.

These unfortunate incidents of racism subsequently prompted the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack in which African-American users detailed their not-so-great experiences while trying to book a room on the site.

“Several African American consumers have been subjected to discrimination on the Airbnb Internet platform,” the release from Butterfield and Cleaver stated. “Racism and any form of discrimination should never be tolerated in our society.”

“Members of the CBC are deeply concerned about recent reports of exclusion of African Americans on the Airbnb platform, and we sincerely hope the leadership of Airbnb will take the issue of discrimination seriously and implement common sense measures to prevent such discrimination and ill-treatment of its customers in the future,” it continued.

The CBC commended Airbnb for the action it has taken so far to prevent future instances of discrimination, but urges the company to answer questions like “Why is it seemingly so easy to discriminate against someone via Airbnb’s internet platform?” and “What is Airbnb doing at present to address this glaring issue of discrimination?”

“We’re open to ideas. It’s a really, really hard problem and we need help solving it,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said at the company’s Open Air forum. “We want to move this forward. I myself have engaged with people who have been victims of discrimination on the platform. We take this seriously.”

As Airbnb works to mitigate the issue of discrimination, some African-Americans are taking matters into their own hands by launching alternative platforms on which travelers of color can book rooms. Noirbnb and Noirebnb are two of the newest tech start-ups aimed at developing services for Black individuals in search of lodging, Atlanta Black Star reported.

“There is a need to create something of a safe space,” Noirebnb developer Rohan Gilkes told the news site. “Where people feel like they can travel and spend their money and be treated well and feel dignity and be respectful… we can build something where we can feel empowered and feel good and not have that burden on us and that can also be inclusive and safe for people of all backgrounds.”

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