The next time you try to book a room on AirBnB, be warned, your race and your name can play a factor in whether you can find that sweet pad for a weekend getaway or be stuck at home sulking.
A new study from the Harvard Business School found that African-Americans face blindsiding racial bias when attempting to rent rooms from whites through the site, which boasts more than 2 million listings in 190 countries.
Researchers from the university created 24 fake identical profiles, some with more “Black sounding” names such as Keisha and Tyrone and some with more “white-sounding” names such as Kimberly and Timothy. From there, they reached out to 6,400 AirBnB hosts in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St Louis, and Washington D.C., pretending to look for rooms.
And what they found was incredibly jarring.
Folks with “Black sounding” names were 16 percent less likely to get rented a room by a white host compared to those with “white sounding” names such as Kimberly and Timothy. Also, potential renters with white names had a 50 percent success rate of getting a positive response, compared to a 42 percent rate for Black names, says the BBC. And sadly in Raven-Symone fashion, the study also found that Black hosts were prone to discriminating against Black-sounding names too–at the same rate as whites.
The authors wrote, “Clearly, the manager of a Holiday Inn cannot examine names of potential guests and reject them based on race…Yet, this is commonplace on Airbnb.”
It’s also illegal, Time points out.
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it’s against the law “for hosts who rent out more than five rooms to discriminate against guests based on their race.”
However, researchers don’t believe AirBnB will be held liable. And while it’s not AirBnB’s fault per se for the racism being displayed by their hosts, the report believes that the company can make certain changes to help reduce discrimination across the board. First, AirBnB can stop requiring bookers to use their real and pictures and they can encourage more hosts to use the “instant booker” feature, notes Forbes.
Now, for hosts who prefer the back and forth between potential renters, the authors teamed up with a computer expert and created Debias Yourself, an app for hosts that removes names and pics from profiles sending them inquiries.
This isn’t the first report to shed light on AirBnB’s virtual racism. A 2014 study found that white hosts were making more money for their property than Blacks and other hosts of color.
In a recent statement, AirBnB officials admitted that they are in “touch with the authors of the this study and we look forward to continuing dialogue with them” in hopes to help them overcome these “significant challenges” to reducing housing bias.