Airbnb has hired former US attorney general Eric Holder to help weed out racist hosts

Eric Holder.
Eric Holder.
Image: Reuters/Tami Chappell
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Airbnb has hired former US attorney general Eric Holder to help weed out discrimination on its home-sharing platform.

Holder will work alongside Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington DC legislative office, and John Relman, a civil rights attorney, to “craft a world-class anti-discrimination policy,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a blog post today. Holder made civil rights and criminal justice reform signature issues of the Justice Department during his tenure. Since stepping down as attorney general, Holder has also been a prominent voice in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Airbnb is bringing on Holder to help resolve a discrimination problem that has morphed into a full-blown identity crisis: As much as the company prides itself on being open, inclusive, and global, the reality is that its platform overwhelming caters to the wealthy and white.

A study from Harvard that examined Airbnb bookings in five major US cities found that 63% of hosts were white and only 8% black. The same study concluded that guests with so-called “distinctively African-American names” were significantly less likely to have their reservation requests accepted than those with “distinctively White names.”

Another report from Pew Research Center noted that 13% of white adults have booked stays through home-sharing companies such as Airbnb versus just 5% of black adults.

Meanwhile, Airbnb’s staff—like that of many tech companies—also lacks diversity. According to a report Airbnb filed with the US Department of Labor last year, its employees are 63% white, 22% Asian, 7% Hispanic or Latino, and 3% black. In March, Airbnb hired David King III, former head of the office of civil rights and diversity for the Peace Corps, to be its first director of diversity.

In late May, Airbnb was sued by Gregory Selden, a 25-year-old black man, for racial discrimination. The hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack has also taken off, creating a Twitter repository for stories of racial injustice on the platform.

“Joe, Nate, and I started Airbnb with the best of intentions, but we weren’t fully conscious of this issue when we designed the platform,” Chesky wrote in today’s blog post. “After speaking to many of you, I have learned that there have at times been a lack of urgency to work on this, and we need to rectify that immediately.”