Eric Frazier

That racist Airbnb host? Every black traveler’s secret nightmare

The Airbnb application and website allows homeowners to rent their property to strangers online.
The Airbnb application and website allows homeowners to rent their property to strangers online. Bloomberg via Getty Images

I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I tend to avoid the “local color” restaurants and hotels when traveling.

I force-feed myself Applebee’s, stay at the Holiday Inn and leave the local joints to the locals – surely missing more great meals and experiences than I’d care to imagine.

Why?

Because as an African-American, you just never know when you’re going to stumble across That Guy. You know, the one who’s perfectly willing to dispense with all pretense of civility and baldly tell you that the n-word was made for you, and you weren’t made for his establishment.

Is it likely? No. But it happens, as Airbnb’s recent banning of a Charlotte home-rental host shows. The host, a guy named Todd Warner, got banned from listing his property on the app after he canceled a black woman’s rental request once he realized she – and not her white friend pictured with her in her profile – would be the guest.

He let her know she was not welcome to stay there: “This is the south darling … find another place to rest your n----- head.”

Ugh. This new “sharing economy” provokes a natural – and wise – bit of anxiety in every customer, regardless of color. It requires you to trust that your Uber driver or Airbnb host is safe. For black folks, there’s a less urgent, but no less real, extra layer of worry buzzing around. Maybe the host isn’t homicidal, but perhaps he’s not all that jazzed about black renters, either.

When I posted on Facebook about my Airbnb qualms and the Todd Warner case, several white guys lectured me. How could I stereotype all white people based on one guy’s actions? OK. I feel certain most white people on Airbnb aren’t racists. But that doesn’t mean they’re as rare as unicorns, either.

A recent Harvard study showed Airbnb guests with distinctively African-American-sounding names were 16 percent less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively white-sounding names.

So, it’s not just all in my head – or “playing the race card.” I’ve bumped into That Guy twice in my life. The second encounter provoked such rage it took me days to calm down. I know how furious, indignant – and, yes, hurt – that Airbnb renter feels.

You always wonder if you’ll run into That Guy (or Gal) again. So, you subconsciously tighten your circle of experience, working to squeeze down the odds.

But when we do that, we’re disrespecting all the people, white and black, who fought and bled for the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which finally banned discrimination in public accommodations.

I’d never really given my own precautionary tendencies as much thought as I am right now.

And, like I said, I’m a little embarrassed by how I’ve let these habits creep into my routine.

Well, no more. Nobody’s dictating where I can and can’t go. Especially not That Guy.

Eric: 704-358-5145; efrazier@charlotteobserver.com

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