It’s well known, especially around these parts, that hair can be a sensitive issue for Black women. Entire movies have been made about it, and countless articles have been written examining it. Just recently, CNN even highlighted the annoying phenomenon of strangers reaching out to touch African-American women’s hair (a phenomenon, I might add, that impacts lots of people of color in the United States, regardless of gender). Now, a new development in the world of air safety is sure to rile the already difficult and deep dialogue. (Related: Hair Pat Down Angers Black Woman)
According to a new story in the New York Times, an increasing number of African-American women are having to suffer the indignity of “hair pat-downs” when traveling via plane. In his piece, “With Hair Pat-Downs, Complaints of Racial Bias,” Joe Sharkey says he’s heard of two recent incidents in which Transportation Security Administration workers asked to feel through Black womens’ hair after they’d already gone through normal security procedures. In both cases the women said they passed through metal detectors without issue, and that despite that fact they were still required to allow TSA screeners to rub their heads.
“Is it just African-American women with natural hair who get the hair search?” one woman asked. The TSA agent told her that race wasn’t a factor but that if “you have certain kinds of ponytail or bun, you have to get your hair patted.”
As you might imagine, the TSA denies ordering its workers to single-out Black women for hair pat-downs. But it’s obvious that racial profiling will be at play if screeners’ only directive is to look at “certain kinds” of hair. Screeners need proper training that will prepare them to choose between a possible terrorist suspect and an African-American woman with natural hair, especially since the natural hair trend is only getting bigger (no pun intended). If not, there’s going to be yet another sick bit of societal pressure compelling Black women to run away from their natural hair in favor of straight, simple, Eurocentric styles.
(Photo: Wendy Yang/Landov)