The moment NPR’s David Brancaccio of Market Place previewed a future segment on the discrimination of blacks on Airbnb, I already “knew” exactly how the story would play out. While David covered stories on the economy and PayPal, I imagined that in his story he would interview blacks who, in an effort to bypass the same old hotel experience, sought out the more personalized and intimate apartments and rooms found on Airbnb but were met with unwarranted no’s – on more than one occasion. In fact, I already felt a closeness to these “assumed” stories and their tellers.
A few months ago, I took it upon myself to videoconference my payment to the bed and breakfast we would be staying at during our time in Rome. The ultimate goal for this was to avoid sending my credit card information through email, but my secondary goal was to give the B&B owner the opportunity to see what he was getting himself into. I had absolutely no idea of the race relations in Italy, so I just assumed the worst. I assumed that the owner had accrued some negative views of black people. Whatever those views were, I wanted to give him an out before we arrived. I wanted to avoid the “oh, you’re black” look I had imagined we would receive upon our arrival. The good news is that he couldn’t care less. Thankfully, there was no bad news. (The above picture is the B&B owner, Mr. Stefano, and me smiling after a successful stay at his place.)
But as I would soon find out, David’s story, well actually Noel King’s story on blacks and Airbnb was not quite what I had imagined. Instead of black accommodation seekers facing discrimination, it was the black property listers who were facing discrimination – pricing discrimination. A Harvard professor and his colleague looked into the possibility of discrimination on the site, and found that, when comparing listings of the same size, black property listers were listing their places $16 less than similar listings. No one had forced them to do such a thing; property listers have the freedom to choose the value of a stay at their establishment. The discriminatory pricing hadn’t come from or been imposed by Airbnb or anyone other than the property lister. It was a case of self-discrimination. In assessing the situation, a psychologist suggested that the black property owners lowered their asking price because they saw their skin color as a “liability.” Wow! The psychologist went on to suggest that this thought process filtered to other parts of their lives and their expectations. That totally blew my mind. I started to do a mental rewind: were any of my past decisions and my willingness to take less based on a subconscious belief that me being an African American was a liability? Oh gosh.
I have included the full story from NPR’s Market Place below. It begins at marker 3:46.
ATWGs, have you faced issues of race while selecting travel accommodations? What do you think about the whole “liability” thing?