I’m a black man. Here’s what happened when I booked an Airbnb.
Rohan Gilkes

This whole “sharing economy” is getting now into the liminal, gray zone between deeply personal prerogatives and all the painfully achieved progress in civil rights that has produced legislation to ensure businesses treat all customers without deference to their race, gender, orientation or creed. Being quasi-businesses in which a third-party website acts as an agent for introducing parties to conduct their business, that is as an alleged social mediator and networking platform, seems disingenuous to me.

In AirBnB’s perfect world it probably be acceptable for homeowners to simply list their preferred clientele like a dating site (“looking for wealthy, educated mature professional with no kids”) or a pre-1960s leasing office (“sorry: no gays, Jews, or colored allowed).

However I’m guessing it will be a matter of time, in our haphazardly enlightened era, that either the AirBnB model breaks down or that it falls under federal civil rights enforcement and has to become more the enforcer and responsible party for its renters’ behavior. This is a role that leads to more overhead and enormous legal liabilities.

In the meantime it’s hard to see how their investors’ desire to see the site get huge traffic and dominate vacation listers and renters, will mesh with what should be the professional standard of decency in not doing business with or facilitating transactions with racist assholes.

Currently however AirBnB has no obligation that I know of to do anything about it. And to AirBnB’s defense I’m not sure what they can do about it: let folks rack up complaints about a user and bar them from the site once a certain threshold is reached? Publish stats of successful transactions and cancellations based on race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, diet, etc etc? I’m not sure how that would be tracked without having to record user identification info first. And getting users to self-identify into categories they know full well might get them filtered out seems a bad, and maybe illegal.

I’m ambivalent about AirBnB mainly for more selfish reasons. I don’t like all the back-and-forth small talk, and delicate self-disclosure to conduct a simple transaction. When I walk into a BurgerKing I don’t have to get to know anyone and don’t have to be informally screened to determined if I’ll be a good match for my order. I’m not looking to make a lifelong friend and confidant when trying to find a cheap place to crash on a vacation. I don’t want to get to know some landlord’s dogs and talk about my education and career as a preface to pay them $125 to spend a night in their spare bedroom while paying ABnB another $35 or so…all because there’s no Motel6 nearby and the Westin is outrageously expensive for a clean bed and hot shower. But maybe I’m just anti-social and cantankerously old-fashioned like that.

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