A former Airbnb host has been dealt a creative punishment following racist behavior against a potential renter: a $5,000 fine and a mandatory college-level course in Asian American studies.
Tami Barker is no longer allowed to rent out homes using Airbnb after the incident, at which time she told potential renter Dyne Suh, “I wouldn’t rent it to u if u were the last person on earth” and “One word says it all. Asian.”
“It’s why we have Trump,” Barker said, according to screenshots of the conversation.
The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) in California announced the decision regarding Barker’s punishment last week.
The incident took place in February, at which time Suh, a UCLA law student, had booked a stay at Barker’s cabin for herself and her fiancé over President’s Day weekend. According to Suh, she later asked Barker if it was okay to add two additional people and two puppies to the reservation, which Barker reportedly said was fine.
Suh and her friends were on their way to the cabin during a dangerous winter storm, during which times travel conditions were hazardous and there were flash flood warnings in the area. When the group was close to the cabin — three minutes away, according to Suh — Suh contacted Barker to ask how they could go about paying for the extra two guests.
At this time, Barker told Suh she was not welcome to the cabin.
A YouTube video posted in April shows a crying Suh standing in the storm as she recounted the incident. Suh said in a Facebook comment, “By the grace of God we parked 3 mins away from the airbnb when the host cancelled and there was a news crew KTLA 5 parked next to us. They interviewed me just now.” The Washington Post also identified the video as being that of the KTLA 5 interview.
Barker reportedly told Suh she was “insanely high” if she thought she would be able to stay at the cabin with so many people on a holiday weekend.
According to screenshots of the exchange, Barker said, “And I will not allow this country to be told what to do by foreigners.”
“I’m an American citizen you bigot,” Suh responded.
“Then act like one with respect and dignity instead of a bogo buffet,” Barker said.
Airbnb refunded Suh for the trip and offered to reimburse the group for a hotel.
“We finally found shelter at a cute cabin after two hours of roaming around the snowy mountain,” Suh said on Facebook.
In the video posted to YouTube a visibly upset Suh said, “I’m an American citizen. This is my home. I’ve been here since I was three years old. America is my home. I consider myself an American. But this woman discriminates against me for being Asian.”
“People thought, ‘Oh, with the election of President Obama, racism is over in this country,’” Suh continued. “No, it’s very much alive. It exists. And it can happen to anyone. There’s no bounds to racism. No matter what class you are, no matter what your education level, no matter if you’re an American citizen. What they see is that I’m Asian, what they see is my race. And this is how we get treated. It stings. It stings that, after living in the U.S. for over 23 years, this is what happens. No matter if I follow the law, if I’m kind to people, no matter how well I treat others, it doesn’t matter. If you’re Asian, you’re less than human, and people can treat you like trash.”
In addition to the fine and course on Asian American studies, Barker was also ordered to issue a personal apology to Suh, to take part in a community education panel, to volunteer with a civil rights group and to report rental data to DFEH for four years.
“We commend Ms. Suh, who was motivated to file a complaint by a desire to encourage other victims of discrimination to step forward and stand against injustice,” said DFEH Director Kevin Kish.
Also on Facebook, Suh identified Barker as an ESL professor at Mt. San Jacinto College. The school posted on its own Facebook page on July 15: “Mt. San Jacinto College is aware of a recent follow-up news story about an incident involving a former Airbnb host. We can confirm that this individual is no longer with our District, however state employment laws prohibit us from discussing personnel matters.”
In a new post following DFEH’s announcement Suh wrote, “Asian Americans are often left out of conversations about race relations, even though we are also targets of racism and discrimination. The more we speak out, the harder it becomes for people to ignore, deny, or trivialize our lived experiences of being discriminated against like this day-to-day.”
Suh also said that she is “very glad” that Barker’s punishment includes the Asian American studies course.
“I believe that the more people learn about and understand our history and our struggles, the more they can feel empathy towards (sic) us and treat us as equals,” Suh said.
Airbnb hosts more likely to discriminate against travelers with disabilities even when advertised as “wheelchair accessible.”
Airbnb has received criticism for incidents involving racist hosts. And a recent Rutgers University study found that prospective renters who identified themselves as having disabilities were more likely to be rejected by hosts using the popular Airbnb website.
The researchers found that 75 percent of their requests were approved for potential guests that cited having no disabilities, while the approval rate plummeted to 61 percent for guests saying they had dwarfism, 50 percent for blind guests, 43 percent for those with cerebral palsy and 25 percent for spinal cord injuries.
Airbnb requires its users to agree to abide by a policy that forbids discrimination based upon race, religion, nation of origin, or disability. The study found little difference in how hosts responded to requests from guests with disabilities before and after Airbnb adopted its nondiscrimination policy on September 8, 2016.