Two men were refused service from an Airbnb hostess after she began asking weird questions about one of them, including whether or not he was a black man.
Corne Van Hoepen, a journalism student from Toronto, was planning a visit back to Vancouver, the city he grew up in. He also intended to bring a friend along with him, who is, indeed, black.
To save on costs, the two decided to find a reasonably-priced Airbnb in the city. After booking with an apartment for two nights, Van Hoepen said he began getting strange correspondence from the renter, whom he identified only as “Grace.”
Eventually, Grace came out and asked a question about Van Hoepen’s friend specifically: “Is he black?”
Van Hoepen didn’t know how to respond.
“I've never experienced this before, myself, because I'm Caucasian,” he explained. “My first instinct was to be like 'What does race really matter? We're just trying to book a room.'”
Van Hoepen asked his friend how to respond. His friend said to be honest — he’s black, and proud of it, he said.
That’s when Grace started making odd claims, including saying that a rule in her building restricted black people from being allowed inside. She insisted that the two cancel the request to stay at her place.
“We were just like, 'Whoa, what's happening?'” Van Hoepen said.
They continued to question Grace, who changed her story at least once, stating that there were no black tenants in her building, and that a black guest would tip off management that someone was using their space for Airbnb, violating rules there.
Van Hoepen refused to cancel the request to allow Airbnb to conduct an official inquiry into the matter. He also did some sleuthing of his own and contacted the building manager. The manager explained that no rule against black tenants existed, and that Grace’s story sounded more like she was acting out of her own racism.
Van Hoepen said the whole ordeal was an eye-opening experience for him as a white man. Seeing this kind of racism firsthand gave him a new perspective.
“Like walking into stores, the way [racist businesses] pay more attention to him versus a white customer, but I have a hard time understanding that because I never face that,” he said. “I was in shock for a couple days.”
The two were given a $325 credit from Airbnb to help them find a different place to stay. Grace was subsequently removed from the site. Her removal was likely warranted, but it also deleted some of the messages between Van Hoepen and Grace, making it more difficult for him and his friend to file a human rights violation.
Incidents like these happen way too often, and the company must take additional measures to ensure racism like this doesn’t persist on their site. Consequently, by destroying evidence of the racist exchange between would-be renter Grace and her tenants, Airbnb bears some of the responsibility for this manner becoming unresolvable. They should change their policies to ensure the records remain accessible.
This kind of racism cannot be tolerated. “Share economy” business ventures like Airbnb must go beyond doing the bare minimum to ensure their customers are being treated fairly to guarantee underhanded discrimination does not continue in the years ahead.
Banner/Thumbnail Credit: MEDIAEXPRESS.REUTERS/Yuya Shino