Reconsidering the Lawsuit Against Craigslist

In openDemocracy, K.A. Dilday looks at the anti-discrimination lawsuit against craigslist.

In the United States, a lawsuit has been filed against the internet ad site Craigslist for violating fair-housing practices. Cited in the lawsuit were ads for roommates that said such things as “African Americans and Arabians tend to clash with me so that won’t work out”, and “Requirements: Clean Godly Christian Male”. Craigslist began as a personal project in San Francisco, a way for people to look for and advertise employment. It now has sites for people in London, Johannesburg, Paris and many other cities around the world.

In the United States, most of the articles about the lawsuit against Craigslist have focused on the questions of regulating the internet, of making it conform to the same standards and laws as other media. But I wonder what we are really accomplishing…

“Discriminatory housing advertisements contaminate the housing market, stigmatize the people who are discouraged or excluded from housing, and mislead people into thinking that it is normal and acceptable to select tenants on the basis of race, gender, religion or family status”, wrote Laurie Wardell, one of the attorneys filing the lawsuit against Craigslist.

Yet what these laws do is perpetuate an illusion. They do not protect people. Early in the days of Craigslist I remember reading a question posted by a frustrated black man who was looking for a room to rent in New York. He felt that when he went to view apartments to share, people of other races changed their minds about him when they met him because they didn’t want to live with a black man. His question was, should he put his race in his ad and replies to ads or not? My instinct would have been to tell him not to, but I was swayed by the blunt wisdom of one man who replied succinctly: “Yes, put your race in. Why waste your time going to meet bigots?”