You know the story. It’s the one that goes viral on Facebook. The one that prompts a chorus of heavy sighs and “not again” groans from Idahoans. The one about someone in Idaho doing something racist.
The headline inevitably spreads across the country and lingers on the East Coast, where national media run with the virus. Sometimes it crosses the Atlantic and infects the European news cycle.
If you’re sick of those stories perpetuating bad stereotypes about Idaho — and sick of being embarrassed that those stories exist in the first place — then here’s a different one for you:
Someone in California with property in Idaho may have done something racist, but Idahoans tried to make it better.
Every other person from Idaho I’ve talked to after this has been nothing but amazing. Rohan Gilkes, entrepreneur from Florida
Gilkes is a black man. He fell in love with Idaho when he saw the scenic photos and videos posted on Facebook by his friend, a woman who lives in Garden Valley.
As summer approached, Gilkes decided to spend the July 4 holiday weekend visiting his friend and taking in the scenery with his own eyes.
“I like my space when I travel and thought it would be fun to find a cool cabin,” he wrote. “I booked this place on Airbnb for five days, July 1st to July 5th. ... Everything was set! As usual, I included a bit of info about myself on the Airbnb listing to put the host at ease.”
Gilkes assured the Airbnb host that he doesn’t smoke and wouldn’t have any pets or more than one other person with him. “My friend Crissie lives two miles from [the cabin], so we plan to go into Boise, go ATV riding, etc.,” he added. “Will be my first time in Idaho.”
The host responded with regrets. She was planning to be using the cabin that week “after all,” she wrote. Gilkes says he was flexible with dates and tried to book for June instead, but that request was canceled with no further response.
“So I had a white friend book for my same dates, and all of a sudden her plans changed back hahaha. Approved immediately!” he wrote on medium.com.
More than 40 News outlets that interviewed Rohan Gilkes about his experience booking a Garden Valley cabin on Airbnb
Gilkes did not reveal the name of the host, he told the Statesman on Wednesday, because he didn’t want to make the issue a personal attack; he wanted to point out a greater problem with Airbnb. A Harvard Business School study reported “widespread discrimination” by Airbnb hosts. Airbnb says it is working to solve the problem.
Gilkes began work on an alternative home-sharing website, noirebnb.com, after the Airbnb experience. (He and the creator of another new site, noirbnb.com, had the same kind of idea. They have started talking about combining their efforts.)
Gilkes also didn’t mean the post as “a knock on Idaho,” he wrote in his post. The Airbnb host appeared to live in California and operated several properties, including the Garden Valley cabin.
“After this happened, Crissie was almost more upset than I was, to be honest,” Gilkes told the Statesman. “She was not having it.”
Other Idahoans, too, were not having it.
“After posting this on Facebook, I got so many offers of places to stay in Idaho and super well-wishes, it has been nothing short of incredible!” Gilkes wrote.
Gilkes told the Statesman he now plans to grab a beer with “some random folks” when he visits Idaho. Some Idahoans also offered to take him out on a lake.
“I have much more to do now,” he said.
Gilkes, who’s swearing off Airbnb for now, said the incident’s silver lining includes more than new friends and a new website idea. He now has riverside lodging waiting for him in Idaho. A cabin owner in Garden Valley offered him a spot on the banks of the Payette River.
“You look out the window and you’re right on the river, so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.