More than a decade ago, a hip Californian friend told me about this sweet couch-surfing website you could use to travel the world inexpensively. It eventually morphed into Airbnb (then “airbedandbreakfast.com”), which I came to prefer over booking hotels when I travel (which is regularly).
For one thing, I liked the atmosphere of a home over that of a hotel. Hotels are sterile, anonymous, isolated, and boring. They are also more expensive and somehow rarely near a nice sidewalk that takes you to an interesting little street. I also like to have a kitchen available, because I hate travel food. I have had so many good experiences meeting new and very different people as my Airbnb hosts that my husband and I have even discussed listing our own guest room just as a social experiment, to meet even more people from around the country and globe.
Well, not any more. In a supremely arrogant act of needless virtue-signaling, the short-term-rental website has banned people with either religiously or scientifically informed views about human sexuality (or both). Sunday—a day of worship, of course—it informed me that to continue using their services I would have to sign their religious creed:
In sum, you are only allowed to use Airbnb if you agree that race, sexual preference, disabilities, and so forth will have no bearing on your decision to live with someone for a few days. Beyond that, it is a pushy, socially conscious way to weed out of the Airbnb “community” anyone who doesn’t agree with the Left’s identity politics.
So now Airbnb refuses to do business with anyone who doesn’t agree with them politically. (I bet Airbnb brass support forcing wedding vendors to participate in gay weddings though, eh?) Irony of ironies, they’re running around telling everyone, “We’re going to discriminate against our customers, but our customers aren’t allowed to do the same!” Discrimination is not only normal but a necessary part of human life, as Airbnb implicitly acknowledges by, well, discriminating. It’s just lying to itself and all of us about this reality. As a private company, Airbnb should be free to discriminate. But when it tells me they get to do it and I don’t, I’m going to call their leaders ignorant hypocrites.
I’ll also come out of the closet as someone who is not comfortable signing Airbnb’s weird faith pledge. And it’s not because I’m a bigot. It’s because sharing one’s home is a very intimate thing to do, and people have a right to discriminate about who they let into it and why. A Muslim family should have the freedom to decline to put a transgender person in their spare bedroom, and someone who lives up six flights of steps should be free to say “We can’t accommodate people with heart conditions.”
Besides, people openly discriminate on Airbnb all the time, and have essentially as long as Airbnb has existed. Just check out all the descriptions saying “No kids, please” or “No smoking.” Aghh! BIGOTS! Or not.
This is stupid. It’s none of Airbnb’s business why people book or accept a booking. It’s only their business to facilitate the transaction.
I Discriminate on Airbnb—So Sue Me
Every single time I’ve used Airbnb I have discriminated, and I feel no qualms about it. For example, as a woman typically traveling alone (or sometimes with a nursing baby), I feel especially vulnerable. I can’t check a gun or pepper spray in my typical travel bag, a small carry-on. And I don’t know martial arts. Even if I did I would have a tough fight against a big, pushy guy.
So I am especially scrutinizing about not only what neighborhoods I choose to stay in, but also what hosts look like. I prefer to rent from couples or women, not single men, although I have rented from single men. If it’s a single man and he looks like a creep, I won’t request to use his place.
Is that bigotry? No. Is it discrimination? Absolutely. And I am not a bad person for discriminating against single guys who look like creeps. I know fully well that a picture doesn’t tell me who a person really is and I could have foregone plenty of great listings purely by judging a fellow exclusively on his looks and profile.
It may be totally unfair to prejudge a person this way. But it’s also utterly rational. Even if it’s not, it’s my right to discriminate in whatever way I want, and Airbnb should not attempt to get into my head and imperiously determine whether I have the proper motives for clicking “request a booking” or not. I should be free to do what makes me comfortable, and not have to apologize for whatever that happens to be.
Another example. Once I stayed with an Indian family, and their house smelled strongly of curry. If I were pregnant at the time, I would have been quite sick. Even though I wasn’t pregnant then, the smell made sleeping there more difficult for me. Is that bigotry? Not at all. My husband attended a boarding school with lots of international students, who were always telling the Americans we smell like red meat. It’s just a food-culture thing.
I have no grudge against Indian folks for cooking up some delicious curry. Of course their house smells like what they eat. So does mine. We just typically eat different kinds of foods. So we had a minor cultural difference that did affect my comfort while staying in their home. The hosts were very welcoming to me and we enjoyed each other’s company as I came and went for a professional conference. I rated them well, and they rated me well. But am I a bigot for thinking to myself, “Maybe skip the Indian house next time”? I don’t think so.
Airbnb’s Totally Counterproductive Pushy Politics
My feelings about and ways of evaluating the people I will let into my home or whose homes I sleep in are none of Airbnb’s business. All they need to do is facilitate our private transaction, and leave the personal preferences entirely up to us. Airbnb is not my church or confessor. It’s a short-term rental business. Keep your policies professional, and don’t dictate my private life, thank you.
Perhaps even more irritating is that Airbnb did better for the world when it did let individuals make up our own criteria for how we will associate with others. Airbnb’s very format of facilitating interactions between people who have nothing more in common than hopping over to this one weird website is itself a much greater contributor to cultural exchange than its sanctimonious new policy. Thanks to Airbnb, I have stayed in the homes of union members, straight-up socialists, and of people with different ethnicities, lifestyles, and religions.
The financial transaction Airbnb facilitates itself constitutes an opportunity for cultural exchange, but on the terms of the people participating, which makes it much more likely. With others, I spent a lot of what I thought was mutually enjoyable time chatting. I and my hosts were free to talk to each other, to build some rapport with a very different person or not, as we so chose. Some of my hosts left the keys in a lockbox and I never saw them. That’s fine. Their prerogative. A relationship is a dance. You invite, you signal, you check for mutual interest. You don’t push or shove. When people say no, the polite thing to do is back off, not grab their shirt and yank.
Ironically, Airbnb’s “diversity” policies reduce the diversity of its community and the possibilities that people on all sides of every different “identity” can positively interact. Now I’m shut out from renting from a transgender person who might, like my many other hosts, humanize the “other.” Airbnb’s new policy pushes me to think of identity politics-mongers as insulated crybabies whose political lobby divides and attacks people. It teaches me to fear them because they use their power to push me into possibly unwanted interactions, which increases my threshold of resistance, rather than letting me decide to take a risk because I feel safe and uncoerced.
This is a loss for community, diversity, and tolerance, not a gain.