Airbnb Challenges Harvard Racial Discrimination Study

It's shedding new light on how implicit bias functions in even seemingly innocuous institutions.

By Jamilah King Jan 24, 2014

The hot ticket rental lodging website Airbnb is challenging a Harvard study’s findings that black users who rent their homes through the online service make less money in the endeavor than their white counterparts. And it’s shedding new light on how implicit bias functions in even seemingly innocuous institutions. 

Implicit bias is the unconcious, automatic assumption that people make about others based on their percieved racial identity. (Think you’re immune? Take this test.) While housing discrimination in general is a widespread phenomenon, in the case of Airbnb, it undercuts the website’s perception of itself as a so-called "community marketplace."

To that end, the website disputes the Harvard study’s findings by saying that it relies on outdated information. "We are committed to making Airbnb the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent community in the world and our Terms of Service prohibit content that discriminates," Airbnb said in a statement. "The authors made a number of subjective or inaccurate determinations when compiling their findings."

Nonetheless, black Airbnb users have first-hand experience to rely on.

From Jorge Rivas at Fusion:

But black users on Airbnb didn’t need Harvard to tell them discrimination exists on the site that facilitated more than 6 million guest stays in 2013. Last year Los Angeles resident and YouTube personality Tommy Sotomayor took to YouTube claiming he was rejected from a rental unit because of the color of his skin.

"I got declined twice by the same persons and if you look at their history they only rent to white people," explained Sotomayor in a video uploaded to YouTube in October 2013. Sotomayor claims he paid for his rental and was rejected by the host after they found out he’s black.

"All they knew is I was black," Sotomayor went on to say, noting that the host advertising the apartment was still listing the space as vacant on the dates he requested.

Read more at Fusion