raceAhead: June 24, 2016

June 24, 2016, 11:41 AM UTC

Airbnb has really had a tough go of it lately when it comes to race-based and other incidents of discrimination on their platform. They’ve been the subject of a lawsuit, hashtag activism, and embarrassing public relations disasters.

It’s become increasingly clear that the sharing economy reveals some really troubling things about race, gender and power. In the world we live in, and in which Airbnb operates, certain ‘sharing’ is more desirable than others. And all the diversity managers in the world aren’t going to be able to fix that.

Alison Griswold of Quartz diagnoses the problem at hand:

“Discrimination is different. It pits Airbnb hosts against Airbnb guests. It creates situations that are legally and ethically ambiguous, because most hosts aren’t professional hoteliers, but rather individuals choosing to rent out their private homes. It suggests that—contrary to all branding—the Airbnb community perhaps isn’t so diverse, and its home-sharing movement not really for everyone.”

The company is conducting a 90 day internal review of processes, lead by a very determined Laura Murphy, a former ACLU stalwart. They’ve added important diversity hires and have made public pledges to increase diversity in their ranks. Admirable stuff. And all of it should ultimately make a difference to their current and future employees, and as they share findings and best practices, within the larger business ecosystem, too.

It will be interesting to see what comes next for the platform. Photo-less profiles? People aren’t going to want to let someone into their homes that they haven’t seen.

And if you think diversity training at your job is a grim bit of business, (one that has been proven to be largely ineffective) imagine how fun it’s going to be from the comfort of your own home! In a world that’s beset with racial problems, it’s hard to imagine a solution that truly heals.

But it’s also hard to believe that a truly diverse set of founders, funders and advisers wouldn’t have seen this coming from the start. You know, the type of folks who come from a long line of people who have trouble hailing cabs, renting apartments, getting promoted or finding funding. Or, who routinely feel at risk because of who they are perceived to be.

In the rush to find or be the next unicorn, people either don’t know enough to raise nuanced issues of inclusion, or don’t care enough to get the answers. (The press plays a role here, too.) And if the business case for diversity is real, then understanding the biases baked into society has got to be a pretty unique credential.

Yesterday, Airbnb’s CEO, Brian Chesky addressed the 2016 Global Entrepreneurship Summit in Silicon Valley, and said, “The next great entrepreneur may not look anything like the last great entrepreneur.” We should all hope he’s right.

–Kia Kokalitcheva contributed reporting to this piece.


On Point

Brexit vote shocks the world
The British have voted to leave the European Union, roiling financial markets and ratcheting up populist and anti-immigration sentiments around the world. And British Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned. Fortune been covering the situation extensively.

Working undercover in a private prison
Shane Bauer went undercover to better understand the secretive world of private prisons, an industry that holds some 131,000 of the nation’s 1.6 million prisoners, and would love to house more. He accepted a post at Winn Correctional Center, in Louisiana, at $9 an hour with very few questions asked. And it goes immediately downhill from there.
Mother Jones

Becky with the bad grades
Abigail Noel Fisher, who is white, was denied admission to the University of Texas in 2008. Since then, she has twice brought a race-based  suit to the the Supreme Court, arguing that she was discriminated against because students of color with the same credentials were accepted while she was not. Nope, said the court. "The race-conscious admissions program in use at the time of petitioner's application is lawful under the Equal Protection Clause." While Twitter took her to task, schools breathed a sigh of relief.

GMA doesn’t know who Kermit the Frog is
Forget, for a moment, that "Good Morning America" and the Muppets are owned by the same parent company (Disney) and that Kermit the Frog has appeared on the show as himself. But for some reason, "GMA" identified an image of Kermit sipping tea, the centerpiece of internet insult-meme popular in the black community, as #tealizard. And people went insane.
New York Magazine

Cherokee cyclists complete a historic ride of remembrance
More than a dozen Native American cyclists completed a thousand-mile bike ride yesterday that retraced their ancestors journey on The Trail of Tears of 1830 – the route that Cherokee people were forced to march by the U.S. Government from their homes into what is now Oklahoma. The ride, called "Remember the Removal," started on June 5. The riders were Cherokee tribe members from Oklahoma and North Carolina and stopped at historic sites along the way.

Officer acquitted of all charges in Freddie Gray case
Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. was acquitted yesterday in a bench trial. He had faced the most serious of all the charges filed against the six police officers held in the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015 - second-degree depraved-heart murder. He was also acquitted of manslaughter, misconduct and other charges.
USA Today

California tribes’ contributions to Senate race conspicuously absent
California’s Native American tribes have been contributing millions to candidates in races from the presidential to local offices this election cycle, except for one: The state’s U.S. Senate race between State Attorney General Kamala Harris and Rep. Loretta Sanchez. Normal sideline-sitting? Perhaps. Some conjecture that candidates have alienated tribes with their inattention to key issues, or, in Sanchez’s case, cringeworthy insensitivity.
LA Times

The Woke Leader

‘Rep sweats’: Fretting over representation in media is a thing
NPR "Codeswitch" podcast hosts Gene Demby and Kat Chow discuss what it’s like to be non-white TV viewers in a world that has traditionally made television for white audiences. It leads to a modern conundrum: When a new show comes out with Asian or black characters, anxiety takes over for viewers of color. What if I hate it? What if it gets canceled? What if it’s complete trash? What is your race-based duty to show up for a TV show?

Documentary: Song of Lahore 
In 2011, a group of poor, traditional musicians in Lahore, Pakistan, who had been largely working in Taliban-imposed secret, posted a YouTube video of their cover of Dave Brubeck’s "Take Five." It became a  sudden, international hit. The surprised men were then invited to play with Wynton Marsalis and his orchestra at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York.  This extraordinary documentary explores the radical act that playing music in post-Taliban Pakistan has become, and how magnificently challenging cross-cultural teamwork can be. Don’t miss this beautiful film.
Song of Lahore

In spite of affirmative action ban, UCLA thrives
Though California voters banned affirmative action in public universities twenty years ago, UCLA has been making great strides boosting their admission of students of color without considering race or gender in admissions. How? A dedicated team is working closely with high schools and churches to scout promising students and make sure they stay on track. An object lesson for education advocates and diversity managers everywhere.
LA Times


As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else will ever so perfectly capture the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with other people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing. It teaches you the very opposite of racism and anti-Semitism. It teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.
—Wynton Marsalis