In an effort to fight bias and discrimination, officials at Airbnb are in the middle of conducting a thorough review of its platform to avoid future instances of outright racism toward Black users in search of lodging.
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to lend his hand to the Airbnb team to help formulate a “world-class= anti-discriminatory policy for the website,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky announced in a blog post Wednesday.
“We are honored that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has agreed to join our team,” Chesky wrote. “Holder will be working with John Relman, a leading civil rights attorney and national expert on fair housing and public accommodation issues. While we have a policy that prohibits discrimination, we want this policy to be stronger. And we will require everyone who uses our platform to read and certify that they will follow this policy.”
According to the letter, the company has also brought on Laura Murphy, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office, and Dr. Robert W. Livingston of Harvard University to help progress its anti-discrimination efforts.
The popular bed and breakfast site came under fire earlier this year after a number of African-American users reported being outwardly discriminated against and denied lodging due to the color of their skin.
Shani Taylor was one of many to detail her demeaning experience on the platform, as a friend of hers was attempting to book a room for the weekend. After requesting the room she liked, the unidentified friend received a series of racist messages from a host later identified as Todd Warner.
“I hate n—— 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 promptly reported the incident to Airbnb via Twitter, after which the company indefinitely suspended Warner’s account.
Following other incidents of blatant racial discrimination, members of the Congressional Black Caucus urged the company to do something to address the ongoing issue,” Atlanta Black Star reports. Chairman G. K. Butterfield (D-NC) and Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) penned a letter to Chesky, inquiring into the recent reports of racism and discrimination and what he planned to do about it.
“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,” the letter stated.
While Airbnb continues its effort to mitigate the issue of discrimination, some Black entrepreneurs have launched alternative platforms on which African-American travelers can book rooms. According to Atlanta Black Star, Noirbnb and Noirebnb are two of the newest tech start-ups aimed at developing services for Black individuals in search of lodging. This way, consumers bypass any instances of racial discrimination.
“There is a need to create something of a safe space,” Noirebnb developer Rohan Gilkes told ABS. “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.”
Gilkes said he also experienced racial discrimination while attempting to book a room on Airbnb. That is ultimately what led him to launch his own platform.
“I want to build a platform where people can come and feel comfortable,” he continued.
As Airbnb continues to grapple with the issues of racism and discrimination, Chesky promised platform users that he would work to tackle the problem with a new sense of urgency and efficiency.
“I promise you that we have learned from the past and won’t repeat our prior mistakes and delays,” Chesky wrote. “I sincerely believe that this is the greatest challenge we face as a company. It cuts to the core of who we are and the values that we stand for. We will not simply ‘address the issue’ by doing the least required for liability and PR purposes. I want us to be smart and innovative and to create new tools to prevent discrimination and bias that can be shared across the industry.”