Is The TSA Targeting Black Women's Hair?

Some black women with natural hair report receiving hair pat-downs from TSA employees — in some cases while white women with similar hair sailed through. Is this a case of racial profiling?

Joe Sharkey considers that question in the Times. He tells the story of Timery Shante Nance, who wears her hair in an unstraightened puff. At the San Antonio airport, she passed through a body scanner with no trouble, but then a TSA employee insisted on patting her hair. She asked if the procedure was for black women only, and was told it wasn't — but she noticed white women with similarly "bushy" coifs going through security without the extra pat-down. Sharkey also talked to a white woman with "a noteworthy mane of bouncy, curly brunette hair tumbling to her shoulders" — she said she had never been singled out for a hair search. Nance thinks her experience is a result both of racial profiling and of prejudice against natural hair within the black community. This jibes with the experience chronicled by The Blogmother at What About Our Daughters:

In all the airports that my afropuff has strolled through, I've only been targeted for a afropuff patdown by Black employees.

The first time was in Washington, DC, by a male employee who appeared disgusted that I would wear my hair in its natural state. He was so unnecessarily dramatic. Eye rolling and lip smacking when I asked why my hair was being targeted and whether he made every Black woman with natural hair go through a pat down. He dragged over an embarrassed Black woman ( who was wearing some type of polyesther ponytail-like object) to massage my scalp. No doubt he's still at Reagan National harassing other Black women with natural hair who make it through the metal detector.

Sharkey also cites the case of Laura Adiele (pictured), who got a hair patdown at the Seattle airport that she believes was a case of racial profiling. The TSA denies that it targets people based on race. However, Blogmother writes,

This policy of targeting anything "poofy" automatically places Black women who don't relax their hair in the crosshairs and gives its employees who don't like natural hair an opportunity to target these Black women and put them through a humilating ritual to punish them from not relaxing their hair. Whether that was the TSA's intention is irrelevant, as a practical matter, targeting "poofy" hair is de facto discrimination based on race.

Sharkey notes that "the T.S.A. goes to lengths to be culturally and even politically aware" — but where black women's hair is concerned, it may not be going far enough. If agents are treating natural black hairstyles as unusual or dangerous, they're adding to a form of discrimination many black women already suffer, and they need to adjust their search policies to make sure they're fair.

With Hair Pat-Downs, Complaints Of Racial Bias [NYT]