Taking a page from the manual “How to Apologize After You’ve Marginalized a Community,” Airbnb announced a new partnership with the National Association of Colored People that will donate money to the NAACP and…
Well, it’s not really “donations,” per se. The new agreement is more like revenue-sharing. Wait. It’s not really revenue sharing, it is more like using the NAACP’s street cred to help erase Airbnb’s history of problematic behavior. No, it’s more like Airbnb paying the NAACP to vouch for the home-sharing app so they can increase revenue. It’s a little like Hammer dancing in the Kentucky Fried Chicken commercial or Billy Dee trying to get you to believe he drinks Colt 45.
According to the Washington Post, the NAACP will use its clout in the black community to get black hosts and customers for Airbnb. In exchange, for every black host that the NAACP brings in, the hospitality tech company will “donate” 20 percent of the host’s revenue (or as they called it in my business classes: sales commission). The company also said it will diversify its employees a whole 1.4%—from 9.6% to 11%—by the end of the year because they want more black employees, but not that many.
I am astounded that the NAACP fell for it. We’ve all had this sales pitch before. Someone invites you to the table to attend a very high-level business meeting, but when you get there it’s just a multi-level marketing pitch explaining how you can make so much money by exploiting your friends and selling a product that will make the people above you rich and a little bit will trickle down to them.
So why would Airbnb do this? It might have something to do with the studies that show how they contribute to gentrification. Maybe it’s because of the Harvard study that shows that it is 16% harder for people with black names to book a reservation on Airbnb.
It might be because of the negative stories like the black woman pushed down the stairs by an Airbnb host. It may be a result of the Asian-American woman who had a reservation canceled after the host said “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person on earth” and “One word says it all. Asian.”
Maybe the viral hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack—where people told stories of the discrimination they experienced staying at Airbnbs—made them realize they needed more minority input.
Nah, it’s just about money.
This is not a benevolent action by Airbnb. They are reaching out because they see black people as an untapped market demographic. Airbnb needs hosts and more customers. As gentrification increases, communities of color are the fastest growing areas in many cities, so why not put more units in black neighborhoods? If that sounds too blatantly accusatory, here’s a more benign explanation straight from Airbnb:
A 2016 study of the New York City host community found that the number of Airbnb guests grew 78 percent year-over-year in the 30 city zip codes with the highest percentage of black residents, compared to 50 percent city-wide. Similar studies of Airbnb host communities in Chicago’s South Side and Washington, DC’s Anacostia neighborhood found even higher rates of growth.
And who better to walk Airbnb through the ‘hood than an iconic 108-year-old black organization (for a nominal fee, of course)?
I’m not mad at the NAACP’s willingness to become Airbnb’s official negro whisperers. After all—if we’re being fair—it is not Airbnb who is accused of being racist, it is a few of the hosts, which is expected. Racist people do exist, so the law of averages that some Airbnb hosts must be bigoted.
But I wonder if the NAACP asked its members if they wanted to contribute to gentrification. Before the organization decided that it would use NAACP dues to become Airbnb’s street team, I wonder if they posed the question to the entire membership. I wonder if they considered the ramifications of giving the company their stamp of approval the next time an Airbnb host cancels a guest because they don’t want black people sleeping on their sheets. I wonder how they’ll respond when someone is without accommodations in a strange city because the NAACP vouched for Airbnb.
I wonder if they know how bringing Airbnb into black neighborhoods reduces the number of available housing. I wonder if they know how it contributes to rent inflation. I wonder if they even mentioned black-owned apps like Innclusive.
I’m not saying the NAACP sold out…
But dat cash, though.
Read the Washington Post report here.