By Timothy Bella
It was around 2 a.m. on Saturday when the Airbnb host kicked Kenneth Simpson and his friends out of her New York townhouse. “Get your things and get the f— out of my house,” Simpson recalled her saying to the five black men.
As the friends started to pack their things, the owner, listed on Airbnb under the name Kate, called them “criminals,” saying she felt threatened by their presence, Simpson told The Washington Post. That’s when Simpson told his friends to start recording the exchange. Then, she uttered a racial epithet long used toward black people.
“Which monkey is gonna stay on the couch?” the host asked the group.
The moment, captured in two viral videos shared by Simpson over the weekend, is the latest in a line of racist encounters on platforms like Airbnb, again calling into question the safeguards in place to protect customers from hateful actions. On Sunday, Airbnb announced it had banned the host, calling the language she used “unacceptable.”
Simpson, a 28-year-old from Alexandria who works in health IT, said he was still upset about how the group was belittled, calling it “another real-life situation where we had to experience the feeling of hopelessness as a black American.”
“I felt very dehumanized,” Simpson told The Post. “I thought, is this where we are today? We made a point that we’re educated, working professionals. And it doesn’t even matter if you’re an educated person, because no one deserves to be called a monkey and be dehumanized for no reason.”
For the weekend getaway to New York, Simpson and another friend drove in from the Washington area. Two others flew in from Chicago and Houston, while the fifth friend lives in New York. Simpson said the group had all met while traveling, and had arranged trips for years from the East and West Coasts to South America and Europe.
But things didn’t seem right when they arrived at the Upper East Side home late Friday. Although the listing was advertised as an entire-unit rental, they discovered it was a shared home, Simpson said. He added that the group was given the okay to bring a dog in a crate, but the hosts reportedly balked at the animal when they arrived. Then, the host’s boyfriend asked them to lower their music and keep their voices down. The friends felt uncomfortable, Simpson said, but vowed to make it through the night before finding a different place to stay in the morning.
Then, Kate told them they had to go, giving them a few minutes to leave, he said. At that point, the friends called the police and started filming. The videos, posted to Twitter on Saturday, have combined for more than 420,000 views as of early Monday.
“Our hope is that someone else doesn’t have encounter a racist Airbnb hosts like Kate,” he tweeted.
Simpson said he was especially disheartened that an Asian American woman had used a racist term. One of his friends, Meshawn Cisero, told the Root that the insult from another person of color stung even deeper. “I felt like she should’ve related to us to a degree, but that feeling was quickly removed,” Cisero said.
Airbnb responded by saying that in addition to removing the host, it worked with Simpson and his friends to find a new place to stay.
“The language is unacceptable and has no place in the Airbnb community,” the company tweeted. “We’re thankful to them for bringing this to our attention so we could take action.”
The incident in New York is the latest challenge for a company that has grappled with racist actions from hosts, inspiring the Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. Last year, the granddaughter of Bob Marley and her friends were stopped by police after neighbors thought they were thieves when they didn’t wave back at them. NPR has reported that many black guests who faced difficulty booking places due to their race have altered their names or not used real profile photos.
Airbnb has said it takes racism seriously. In 2016, Airbnb introduced its “Open Doors” policy, promising guests who feel they are discriminated against that the company would find them a similar place to stay or an alternative accommodation elsewhere.
But Simpson also criticized the company’s response. The friends weren’t able to find a hotel until around 5 or 6 a.m. on Saturday, with an 11 a.m. check-out time. Airbnb had connected them to another unit, but Simpson said they were provided a listing that ended up getting canceled at the last minute, calling the weekend of bookings “a lose-lose situation.”
“I’m not going to say Airbnb is responsible for this entirely, but I do feel like they need to vet their hosts,” Simpson told The Post. “This isn’t the first racist situation that’s gone pubic and viral, so they need to figure out and make sure no one else gets treated like we did this weekend.”
After Simpson’s videos went viral, a man who identified himself as the host’s boyfriend took to Reddit to explain their side of the story. In the post, which has since been deleted, the boyfriend said the group was “belligerent and refused to leave,” adding that the group also called the host names before she “unfortunately calls them monkeys.”
“They got that on video which is obviously a bad thing for her to say but a news article from their point of view claims we were harassing them all night which is simply not true,” the boyfriend wrote in the post, which Simpson captured in a screen shot. “I tried to help but they took advantage. Now Airbnb has deleted our account. Any advice?”
Simpson was angered by the response and the man’s use of “unfortunately” when mentioning the racist line. He just wished the boyfriend didn’t cover up his girlfriend’s feelings.
“What’s unfortunate about it?” he said. “She meant exactly what she said.”