I hate flying. Or rather, I hate the mad dash to make it to my gate before the cabin door closes, especially those times when the self-serve kiosks at the airline are conveniently out of service and I'm left with no choice but to wait anxiously in line. But what I hate most is this looming truth: there’s a 50 percent chance my curls are going to be roughed up by a Transportation Security Agent.
It’s humiliating, and I will never forget my first pat down. I stepped through the full-body scanner and met the eyes of the agent, a middle-aged white woman with exhaustion painted over her face. She returned my gaze, almost apologetically, slipped on a fresh pair of latex gloves and said, “Ma’am, I’m going to need to check your hair.” She smashed down my topknot and slipped a gloved finger in to probe at my scalp. Meanwhile, embarrassment and rage started to boil inside me.
It’s an experience many of you have encountered in this post-9/11 world, and this is why it’s such a huge feat that the TSA is reevaluating its policy. After years of complaints, the agency has reached an agreement with the American Civil Liberties Union, led by staff lawyer Novella Coleman, who herself had been searched unnecessarily. Per the agreement, the TSA says it will re-train its officers with special emphasis on Black female passengers with natural hair and track complaints filed by Black women at all airports to determine if discriminatory practices are still in play.
As if there is a question of discrimination. I’ve seen white women with thick curls coast through security, Latinas with high buns rivaling mine do the same, and women of every shade in between, yet these “random” searches are what we as Black women come to expect and prepare for once we step into that line.
So, thank you, Novella, for taking a stand for women of color around this country. Thank you to stars like Solange Knowles for speaking out and reminding us that we naturalistas do, indeed, have a voice. And thank you, TSA, for finally respecting my puff.
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(Photo: Westend61 / Rainer Holz/ Corbis)
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