Black-Owned Tech Start-Up Aims to Fix #AirbnbWhileBlack

Noirebnb’s current homepage design. Users are able to enter their email and sign up for updates on when the site will be live.

Discrimination against Black Airbnb users has been brought to light recently with people taking to social media with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack to tell personal stories where they were denied a room with Airbnb, the online platform where people can list and rent places to stay. As the stories generally go: a white host declined a black user’s request but accepts a (real or fake) white user’s request for the same dates.
Rohan Gilkes, 40, was one of those telling his story, as he wrote on Medium about how he was denied a place to stay on Airbnb. After posting his story, there was an outpour of other people telling similar stories which prompted him and co-founder Zakiyyah Myers, 40, to create an alternative platform. So, Noirebnb was born.
Gilkes, who was born in Barbados and lives in Tampa, Fla., is no stranger to tech start-ups as he has been helping to build million-dollar tech companies for the last five years. Since the soft launch of Noirebnb on Monday, he’s been getting a lot of attention and praise on social media.
“It just went crazy!” Gilkes said. “I don’t think I’ve slept.”
The idea for an alternative lodging platform isn’t exactly new, with sites like misterb&b which was created for gay men who also face discrimination when finding a place to stay. There is even another Noirbnb (without the “e”) that was recently founded as well by Stefan Grant and Ronnia Cherry. Understandably, the two sites are currently looking for a way to merge together.
“We’ve been talking and we’re optimistic that something will happen, but we’re also prepared if something doesn’t happen,” Gilkes said.
For now, Noirebnb is still in Beta, but potential users can sign up for email updates in the meantime. Noirebnb is still in the process of finding enough hosts and travelers, but they hope to formally launch the site in about 8 weeks.
“There’s a lot of moving parts,” Gilkes said, “but we have a really strong team and we’ve built multiple tech businesses before together and have had a lot of success, so we feel that we’re the right team to make it happen.”
In addition to the technological aspect of building this site from the ground up, Noirebnb aims to offer a safe space for those who have faced discrimination in trying to find a place to stay on Airbnb. Harvard Business School did a study in 2014 that highlighted the prevalence of discrimination on the online marketplace, with non-Black hosts being able to charge 12% more than Black hosts can for similar properties.
But, of course, the discrimination doesn’t stop there, as Airbnb is currently facing a lawsuit from Gregory Selden, a Black man in Washington, D.C., who is claiming that the company has regularly violated the Fair Housing Act as well as the civil rights of other people of color after he was denied a place to stay, according to him, because of his race.
“Based on a lot of what’s been happening with Airbnb and discrimination having to do with race, sexual orientation and gender identity, we’re thinking that we have to not build a platform and then fix this problem; we want to create a platform that is completely based on a solution around these problems,” Gilkes said.
One of the ways that Noirebnb plans to make a difference and prevent discrimination in the platform by ensuring that dates made unavailable for one are made unavailable for all, with some fail safes put in place in case a mistake is made.
“We just want to be as inclusive as possible,” Gilkes said. “We’re coming from a good space where everybody is welcome to take part.”

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