A collaborator and friend of the artist Zanele Muholi was pushed down a staircase at an Airbnb in Amsterdam on Saturday. Muholi posted a video on Instagram that showed her friend, the writer and filmmaker Sibahle Nkumbi, being shoved by the husband of her Airbnb host as he says “out now.” Nkumbi, a South African student currently based in Switzerland, was taken to the hospital, interviewed by police, and later released; she suffered multiple bruises and a concussion. Her unnamed, 47-year-old assailant has since been charged with attempted manslaughter, according to Huffington Post South Africa.

“All he had to say was, ‘leave now,’” she said in a video interview with journalist Kevin P. Roberson. Instead, Nkumbi said, he yelled: “You people, you are not the great artist that you think you are. You are not the queen that you think you are. This is not Africa. You need to leave now.” Nkumbi and her colleagues were in the process of checking out of an Airbnb apartment managed by the attacker’s wife. They were in Amsterdam to attend the opening of Muholi’s exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum.

“I am angry because it’s not as if they were refusing to leave and because I know he would not have done that had [Nkumbi] been a white woman,” Muholi told Huffington Post South Africa. “[Nkumbi] was here to work. Her job was to write a feature about the exhibition once it had opened. I booked that Airbnb and had to make sure they were taken care of. This man put a bitter end to what started out as a great weekend. He could have killed [Nkumbi] and I don’t think he has even realized it yet.”

In a statement sent to Hyperallergic, Airbnb’s Director of Diversity and Belonging David King said:

Appalling and unconscionable behavior against members of our community runs counter to everything Airbnb stands for. Our CEO Brian Chesky and I are reaching out to the affected guests. We will take the strongest actions we can against such abhorrent conduct, including banning people for life from our platform and assisting law enforcement with their investigation and potential prosecution. Nobody should ever be treated like this and it will not be tolerated.

The online rental service has come under increased scrutiny for the racist behavior of its hosts. A Harvard Business School study found that Airbnb hosts were 16% less likely to rent to guests with names that sounded African American as opposed to guests with white-sounding names. In response, the company has sought to diversify its staff, hired former US Attorney General Eric Holder to develop anti-discrimination policies, and instituted new measures that penalize hosts who systematically turn down minority guests.

Muholi’s work, primarily portrait photography, deals specifically with issues of racism, sexism, and discrimination based on sexuality, particularly as they’re experienced by members of the LGBTQ community in South Africa. The bitter irony of suffering a violent and racist attack in a nation less commonly associated with such incidents than their home country was not lost on Muholi and Nkumbi.

“I come from South Africa, where racism is so fucked up, and you would expect that from South Africa because racism is visible,” Nkumbi told Roberson. “You come here, you get attacked like that! I didn’t expect it at all. I’m actually quite disappointed — part of me is disappointed, part of me is sad, part of me is angry. When will we wake up? People are people.”

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Benjamin Sutton

Benjamin Sutton is an art critic, journalist, and curator who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn. His articles on public art, artist documentaries, the tedium of art fairs, James Franco's obsession with Cindy...