In theory, the process of renting a house on Airbnb should be simple. You create an account, find the holiday home of your dreams, request a stay and then receive confirmation from your host. See? Simple.
Back in February, Dyne Suh thought she had jumped through those hoops. The 26-year-old law clerk had booked a cabin in Big Bear, California, for a skiing weekend, and was on her way to the mountains with a group of friends.
However, just minutes before they arrived, Suh received a text from her Airbnb host. “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person at all,” wrote Tami Barker.
“One word says it all. Asian.”
Now, Barker has been ordered to pay almost £4,000 ($5,000) in damages for racial discrimination – and to take a college-level course in Asian American studies.
Kevin Kish is the director of the California department of fair employment and housing (DFEH), which can penalise Airbnb hosts for racial bias. He tells the Guardian that he and his team “were thinking pretty creatively with this agreement”.
“The law tends to be backwards-looking, focusing on compensating people for harm,” Kish says. “We’re interested in remedies that repair harm and transform relationships.”
Suh originally booked Barker’s cabin for a long weekend with her fiancé, and later asked if it was OK if they were joined by two more friends and two dogs. According to screenshots of their messages, Barker said this was fine as long as they paid an extra nightly fee.
The group drove for hours in the rain and snow to get to Big Bear. However, when Suh texted Barker to let her know that they were close, the host denied any knowledge of the extra guests, called Suh a “con artist”, and cancelled the reservation.
“You are the one who said yes and took back your word,” texted Suh – prompting Barker to launch into racist abuse.
Suh told Barker she would complain to Airbnb about her racist remark, to which Barker replied: “It’s why we have Trump… and I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”
In a video captured immediately after the stay was cancelled, a tearful Suh said: “I just feel so hurt. People thought: ‘Oh, with the election of President Obama racism is over in this country.’ No, it’s very much alive, it exists and it could happen to anyone.”
“It stings that after living in the US for over 23 years this is what happens... If you’re Asian, you’re less than human and people can treat you like trash.”
Barker’s lawyer Edward Lee said in a statement that his client was “regretful for her impetuous actions and comments” but was pleased that the matter had been resolved.
Kish says that the idea to enrol Barker on an Asian American studies course came out of mediation sessions between the host and Suh.
“A lot of times when we see bias incidents it involves a lack of understanding of the experiences and histories of a particular group of people,” he explains. “This was a creative way to address that core underlying cause of the bias.
“We want there to be strong anti-discrimination protections and preventions of harm, but we recognize that the world isn’t divided into good guys and bad guys.
“Humans have biases and we also need to recognize that humans change.”
Images: iStock, youtube.com