Under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union, the Transportation Safety Administration will no longer subject black women to unnecessary hair searches. The TSA finally addressed the issue after multiple complaints from black women who felt they were being singled out arbitrarily for additional screenings.
The agency has also agreed to further train employees on racial sensitivity, with a special focus on how to correct their approach to black women passengers.
Novella Coleman, an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California, said in a statement:
The humiliating experience of countless black women who are routinely targeted for hair pat-downs because their hair is ‘different’ is not only wrong, but also a great misuse of TSA agents’ time and resources. We [want to] ensure agents receive adequate training to protect against implicit and overt racial biases during airport screenings.
Coleman brought forward the complaint against the TSA after she was scrutinized at the airport on several occasions while wearing dreadlocks. When she asked an agent why a hair search was needed, the agent replied it was policy to pat down someone’s hair if they had extensions or other “abnormalities.”
There you have it, folks. If you fail to mimic white standards of beauty, your hair not only gets labeled an abnormality but is seen as a possible threat to national security. When pressed by the ACLU to explain how these racially biased hair searches made flying safer, the TSA was unable to provide reasoning.
This isn’t the first time these microaggressions against black women and their hair have been called out.
In 2012, dialogue on the problem spiked on social media when singer Solange Knowles tweeted that her afro had been searched at a TSA checkpoint in Miami. Calling it “Discrim-FRO-nation,” she said “My hair is not a storage drawer.”
Then just last year, the U.S. Army came under fire for releasing new grooming regulations that many felt targeted Afro-centric hairstyles. Black women service members pushed back with a White House petition.
And it’s not just afros and braids, in my experience. Pretty much each time I’ve flown through LAX, a TSA agent has asked me to step aside so he could run his hands down my straightened hair, from root to tip. I never saw other passengers subjected to this, but I kept telling myself I was chosen at random. I slowly realized there was nothing random about it, and now feel my bodily integrity is violated each time it happens.
Now that the TSA has acknowledged the problem, hopefully it’s an end to the belittling invasion of privacy black women experience each time they take to the skies.
Anita Little is the associate editor at Ms. magazine. Follow her on Twitter.