When the Civil Rights Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johson in 1964 outlawing discrimination in places of “public accommodation” on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, few then might have predicted a future disrupted by the ‘Sharing Economy,’ enabled through new technology and popularized by companies like Uber and Airbnb.
While Uber has improved access to the accommodation of hired vehicles to those of color who might otherwise be unable to hail a ride from traditional taxi services, Airbnb has struggled to deal with the discrimination inherent in lodging services. #AirbnbWhileBlack is now a thing, as African-Americans share their stories of difficulties booking an Airbnb due to the color of their skin. Since users are identified with their real name and a photograph, some hosts have used that information to avoid renting their houses, apartments and rooms to African-Americans.
Airbnb has jumped on top of complaints, banning one host for being openly discriminatory and hostile to a Nigerian woman attempting to rent his home – an incident CEO Brian Chesky called “disturbing.” Still, complaints mount and a lawsuit has already been filed against the Silicon Valley-based company.
Similar to the difficult times of the Civil Rights era, a group of African Americans have decided to take matters into their own hands, building their own businesses to serve the underserved. Two new startups have sprouted from the soil of #AirbnbWhileBlack: Noirbnb & Noirebnb. Both were created from the very personal experiences of their founders – Ronnia Cherry & Stefan Grant (Noirbnb) and Rohan Gilkes (Noirebnb), respectively.
Mr. Gilkes was denied service because of his race. Ms. Cherry and Mr. Grant were accused of breaking and entering the home they rented and were subsequently approached by police, with guns drawn. Now both Noirbnb & Noirebnb promise to offer inclusive and safe lodging for people of all races.