A few years ago, it seemed the little guys were finally winning. Companies like Uber and Airbnb gave individuals an opportunity to take part in billion dollar industries by essentially becoming home-based entrepreneurs, making money by giving people rides and allowing them to stay in their homes. But then, something happened, particularly in the hospitality sector, which was essentially helmed by Airbnb. Metaphorically speaking, the littlest of the little guys (minorities) realized that there was less opportunity in this space for them than believed. Directly, Black operators seeking to rent their properties to travelers and Black travelers seeking to rent properties, found little interest and many shut doors. The situation, which mirrored segregation in the American South and continued issues in housing equity for Blacks worldwide, led to outrage and soon the popular use of the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack, where operators and travelers aired frustrations about racism and prejudice faced while attempting to use Airbnb. The company’s response was to try to engage fretful operators and convince them to allow Blacks to stay in their homes and calm the fears of non-Black travelers not wanting to stay in Black-owned residences.
Of course, for many Blacks, the plan seemed far-reaching in its goal to undo centuries of systemic and psychologically imbedded racism. As a result, many stopped using the service altogether.
Enter Noirbnb and Noirebnb. These are tech startups set to provide a solution, providing temporary lodging opportunities for Black travelers.
At the head of Noirebnb sits Rohan Gilkes, 40, a once-frustrated Airbnb traveler who decided it was time to do something else. Twice, the tech entrepreneur tried to rent a home in Idaho; twice, he was denied. Owners claimed the properties weren’t available. Interesting information since his White friend was able to book one of the houses for the dates he posed. Gilkes shared his experience online and found many travelers shared his frustration. He told KGW, “I felt a responsibility to do something.” He plans to launch his site in six weeks.
Gilkes’ story is similar to that of the founders of Noirbnb: Ronnia Cherry and Stefan Grant. The pair rented a home in Atlanta. Grant, a 27-year-old musician and producer, was visiting the city to perform at a festival.
Grant told KGW, “The next day the neighbors called the police because they thought we were robbing the house. The cops showed up with guns drawn … Luckily we were able to deescalate the situation.”
Cherry, a 30-year-old marketing professional, and Grant took a selfie with the officers and posted it online. After seeing the post, Airbnb contacted them and offered a free stay with Airbnb.
“But we knew that wasn’t going to solve the problem. We wanted to make sure our situation never happened again. That’s when we conceptualized Noirbnb,” Grant said. “… We decided racism and discrimination were still happening so it was pretty much up to us to solve the issue.”
What do you think of these new travel options for those #travelingwhileBlack? Will you try them?