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Code Switch And Hidden Brain Teamed Up For An #AirbnbWhileBlack Twitter Chat

Join us at noon for a Twitter chat!
Join us at noon for a Twitter chat!

On Tuesday, our colleagues over at NPR's Hidden Brain talked about the role race plays in the sharing economy — specifically, the online peer-to-peer apartment rental service Airbnb. They spoke with one African-American woman about her persistent difficulties booking rooms through AirBnb, and who had a feeling it was due to her race.

She's not the only one. Hidden Brain dug into a Harvard Business School study that found that on Airbnb, "African-American sounding names were roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than their white-sounding counterparts."

[Researcher Michael] Luca thinks this racial discrepancy is driven largely by unconscious bias—the hidden associations we have that affect our behavior without us realizing it. The way AirBnb's platform is designed, names and photos are the first thing people see, and therefore one of the first things they consider, either consciously or unconsciously, when choosing a place to stay.

David King, AirBnb's new director of "diversity and belonging," says AirBnb is aware of discrimination on their platform and they want to be a leader in addressing it. He says he's talking with Luca and others in finding potential solutions.

On Friday afternoon, Code Switch's Gene Demby and Hidden Brain's Shankar Vedantam led a Twitter chat to discuss some of these experiences. We wanted to know what challenges you all had faced trying to participate in the sharing economy? Folks joined in by following @GeeDee215and @HiddenBrain and using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. @NPRCodeSwitch retweeted the conversation.

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Leah Donnella is an editor on NPR's Code Switch team, where she helps produce and edit for the Code Switch podcast, blog, and newsletter. She created the "Ask Code Switch" series, where members of the team respond to listener questions about how race, identity, and culture come up in everyday life.