Kahlil Robert Irving filed a racial discrimination complaint against the High Line Hotel today in response to a "traumatizing" incident that took place January. (photo by Attilio D'Agostino, courtesy the artist)

Artist Kahlil Robert Irving has filed a racial discrimination complaint against the High Line Hotel for what he describes as a “highly traumatic incident” that took place in January. According to Irving’s complaint, filed today, September 19 and reviewed by Hyperallergic, a hotel manager and his associate, both White, trespassed on his room during his stay while he was asleep and proceeded to racially profile and verbally assault him.

In the complaint filed with the New York State Division of Human Rights, Irving alleges that at around 7:30 or 8am on January 22, when he was still asleep, the hotel manager entered his room briefly because the door had apparently not been entirely shut. The manager asked if Irving was okay and, upon receiving verbal confirmation, he exited the room. Around half an hour later, after Irving fell back asleep, the manager, along with a partner, re-entered without knocking or providing any other warning. The manager hovered over Irving’s bed while “screaming” and using “abusive language,” the complaint says, while his colleague stood by the entrance to the room blocking it. According to Irving’s written description, the manager told him that he was “not supposed to be here” and that he had to leave, and further identified him as an unhoused person who had invaded the room — all despite Irving’s reiterations that he had booked a stay at the hotel. Only after Irving was able to summon evidence of his reservation on his phone did the hotel manager and his partner realize their mistake and retreat.

A representative of the High Line Hotel reached by phone told Hyperallergic that it is the hotel’s policy not to speak to press. The hotel has not responded to email requests for comment.

“To state the obvious: As a twenty-nine year old Black man, it was highly traumatic to be confronted by two older white men who barged into my hotel room unannounced while I was sleeping, screaming at me and saying that I needed to leave immediately and that the police were being called,” Irving wrote. “Can one seriously believe that this incident would have taken place and would have unfolded in such an aggressive and malicious manner, for any other reason, and absent hostile, racial stereotyping?”

Irving writes that he immediately alerted partners at Luhring Augustine Gallery, which accommodated him at the High Line Hotel, about the incident, who then met with individuals at the hotel the following morning. In the eight months since the incident took place, Irving says that neither the hotel nor its parent company MCR Hotels has acknowledged that the attack was racially motivated, calling it a “misunderstanding.” The hotel manager, named in the complaint, appears to still be employed at the High Line Hotel.

In an email sent to an MCR Hotels regional manager in April, Irving’s attorney Laurence Eisenstein claimed that Irving was entitled to “substantial monetary compensation … in an amount sufficient to serve as a deterrent and as a motivation to properly train hotel staff” and demanded “a full accounting of disciplinary action and training that the hotel is implementing as a result of this incident.” But dialogue between Irving and the hotel has stalled, Eisenstein says.

“The filing is being done now because we had been attempting to initiate an informal dialogue with the hotel and its parent, to discuss these issues, however they have been unwilling to engage in such a dialogue,” Eisenstein told Hyperallergic. “We reached the stage where we did not feel they would address the issues and concerns without our initiating some sort of legal proceeding.”

“They never said this was a breach of protocol or this was unacceptable,” Irving wrote to Hyperallergic. “It is and was completely out of line.”

Irving, who was born in San Diego in 1992 and has shown his work at Gagosian Gallery, the Whitney Museum, and the New Museum, among others, works with ceramics, installation, collage, and digital media, exploring themes of historical memory, digital detritus, Black culture, and more.

“Now I have to live with the haunting of someone coming into my room in any hotel I may stay in,” Irving told Hyperallergic.

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Jasmine Liu

Jasmine Liu is a staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, she studied anthropology and mathematics at Stanford University. Find her on 

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