People of color & the internet of things. What not to learn from Airbnb

I’m writing this post with a sole focus on Airbnb just so you know. It’s not even news that ‘Airbed & Breakfast’ has a race problem even if they like to say ‘racism has no place here’.

The truth is; online businesses are taking advantage of loopholes to look the other way when discrimination against Black folks is real. Reports have been coming in for years that Black people who use Airbnb are being discriminated against, being charged higher prices or outrightly denied service based on their race. Black hosts offering rentals on Airbnb get lower offers than white hosts, even if they live in the same neighborhood. [Remember J’cole’s song?]

Over the weekend, South African artist and photographer, Zanele Muholi posted a video of her filmmaker friend, Sibhale Nkumbi getting violently pushed down the stairs by a man who is identified as the husband to the owner of their Airbnb rental. This incident took me back to how Cherry and Grant [Founders of Noirbnb] started their platform to shield the POC community from discrimination. The two were in their Airbnb rental in Georgia working on a music festival when neighbours spotted them and called the police with a case that they were robbing the place, far from crazy!

I couldn’t help my emotions while I watched zanele’s video, it’s 2017 and we still have people of color being treated badly over services they paid for.. cruel world!

Sibalhe was in Amsterdam to review a friend’s art exhibition, she was checking out of Airbnb late when the host lost his temper and threw her down the stairs. In the video, he can be heard shouting, “Out, out”, before pushing her down the stairs.

“We knew we were late,” she said in a video posted to YouTube, having been discharged from the hospital. “We heard the bell ring. The lady was clearly upset… she said this is not acceptable, you need to pack and leave now. I apologized profusely for us being late.”

Nkumbi says she and her companions were in the middle of leaving when the woman returned with her husband, who was visibly angry and, she says, abusive.

“I remembered asking, ‘Why are you being so emotional, we are leaving,” she says.

She says that he called them “you people” and said “you are not the queen you think you are… this is not Africa. Oh wow!

“If this had been a white person, I can guarantee you this would have turned out differently”, she added. Meanwhile, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky, was quoted by a South African entertainment website — KWESEfied saying, “Appalling and unconscionable behavior against members of our community runs counter to everything Airbnb stands for.”

Really? What else were we expecting to get?

Even though the man who assaulted Sibalhe Nkumbi has been arrested and charged with attempted manslaughter, we all still agree that many ‘white’ businesses have a color problem. From “pattern matching” to geek aversion, racial inequity is still coded into the new economy.

People of color are the fastest growing users of everything from smartphones to social media, and according to researchers, people of color are more likely than whites to use that technology to keep up with what’s happening in their neighbourhoods. But not only do they not have a seat at the table when those products are being developed, the table is in a different room entirely.

The question now is how to develop tech communities of people who don’t just consume media, but who create it and can then use it to solve problems in their communities?

Let’s look at a place that’s as racially diverse as New York City and how municipal leaders engage communities of color — could be a roadmap for the rest of the clan.

What many people fail to understand is that diversity in the technological space is not only critical to our economic future, it is critical to the sector itself. Bruce Lincoln, a black entrepreneur once said; “It’s not simply about making sure everyone has opportunities when it comes to developing companies,” he says. “But, also, how that development creates jobs (or services) for those people who are not going to be the technology company developer.”

The thing is, racism isn’t just supported by old ideas, it is based on privilege; how opportunities are shared and hoarded. This brings us to the truth- If we choose to continue the myth of being the chosen few — of being somehow more progressive and enlightened than everyone else — then right now is how we can live up to that, how we prove our ability to be better human beings.

There’s no better time than now destroy this unity pest, we must pressure our leaders to do the right things and also establish rules to protect people of color from racial harassment, for now, and for the future. We must build an inclusive environment and also realize that our strengths lie in our diversity and that we can have a world of ordinary people, doing extraordinary things.

So hi, please don’t be racist.

Use whatever tool you have, the right way.

Richard Ogundiya

Journalist & Techpreneur. Africa, communications and data.

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