For Black South African Woman, #AirBnbWhileBlack Became A Dangerous Reality

There was an immediate uproar when video of a black woman being pushed down the stairs by her white AirBnb host in Amsterdam started to make its rounds earlier this week.

The world watched as Sibahle Steve Nkumbi, a black South African filmmaker, was violently and unceremoniously attacked by her Dutch AirBnb host over a later check-out dispute. The incident left Nkumbi with a concussion, bump to the head and internal injuries, according to South Africa’s News24.

But the now-viral video also prompted a discussion of the hard-to-fix issue of racism within AirBnb, with many black folk taking to social media this week to air their own discrimination grievances with the #AirBnbWhileBlack hashtag.

According to Nkumbi, who was interviewed soon after the incident, she had been staying in the apartment with friends and they were about an hour late with their checkout. The hosts, she says, were immediately combative even though the women were very apologetic. In the leadup to the physical act, Nkumbi adds that the man was verbally abusive, referring to the herself and the other women staying with her as “you people.”

He also told her things like: “You’re not the great artist that you think you are,” “You’re not the queen that you think you are” and “This is not Africa.”

The 47-year old man has since been arrested by Dutch Police has been charged with attempted murder.

As for whether this was a racist incident, Nkumbi had no doubt that it was: “The connection of those words, any person of color that reads this and has been a witness or has witnessed racist attacks, you know it when it happens to you.”

AirBnb was quick to denounce the incident when reached for comment: “Appalling and unconscionable behavior against members of our community runs counter to everything Airbnb stands for,” said David King, Airbnb’s Director of Diversity & Belonging, in a statement to ESSENCE.COM, adding that he reached out to the affected guests.

“We will take the strongest actions we can against such abhorrent conduct, including banning people for life from our platform and assisting law enforcement with their investigation and potential prosecution. Nobody should ever be treated like this and it will not be tolerated.“

It’s not the only time this week that AirBnb has been in the news due to racist incidents on their platform. On Thursdau. a racist AirBnb host was charged to pay $5000 in damages and take an Asian American studies course after refusing to rent and verbally abused an Asian-American guest.

“I wouldn’t rent to u if u were the last person on earth,” the Trump-supporting host told Dyne Suh in April.

For many black folk who use AirBnb, the two incidents hit close to home; just scroll through the #AirBnbWhileBlack hashtag for evidence.

AirBnb has attempted to fix the problem through their Open Doors policy: if a guest is not able to book a listing because they have been discriminated against, Airbnb will ensure the guest finds a place to stay. But this particular issue some say, only deals with the booking aspect of the platform. 

As for Nkumbi, there are the physical and emotional injuries from the incident that she will have to deal with for years to come.

“Apart of me is disappointed, apart of me is sad, apart of me is angry,” she said.

 “When will we wake up, people are people.”