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Afros Targeted by TSA: Safety Measure or Racial Profiling?
Once again the natural hair community is up in arms about hair injustice. This time against the TSA for a September incident involving Dallas hairdresser Isis Brantley and a search of her afro at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia. According to Brantley, she had already cleared initial screenings at the security checkpoint but was chased by TSA guards shouting, “Hey you, hey you, ma’am, stop. Stop — the lady with the hair” as she was waiting for a train. The TSA released this statement to NBC Dallas-Fort Worth: “Additional screening may be required for clothing, headwear or hair where prohibited items could be hidden. This passenger left the checkpoint prior to the completion of the screening process. She was offered but refused private screening.”
Brantley says she understands the need for screening but the most humiliating aspect was that the pat down of her hair by a female TSA agent occurred on the train platform, past the security checkpoint, and it brought her to tears to be publicly humiliated like that. In 20 years of sporting her signature afro hairstyle, she had never been treated in this manner. While the TSA claims she was offered a private screening, Brantley denies that she was. A similar incident took place back in July when a Seattle woman, Laura Adiele, filed a claim of racism against the TSA for a pat down of her curls in the airport. Adiele pointed out that white women with large curls were not patted down but she, of biracial heritage, was specifically targeted because of her race.
The online natural hair community has been posting numerous articles and blog posts about these incidents over the past few months, with many questioning whether women should be upset about the “racist” procedures or take caution in hair style choices when traveling. It is important to note that at least in Brantley’s case, her afro is larger than average (images of Adiele show a much smaller close-cropped curly afro). While the possibility that something could be hidden in her hair should not implicate her as a suspect, the role of the TSA is just as much preventative as reactionary. The only way to be sure there isn’t an explosive hidden in her hair is to check, though the search needs to take place in the appropriately designated area- the security checkpoint.
There isn’t any evidence of a pattern of targeting black women in this practice, as it is relatively new- just as the commonality of black women with natural hair is relatively new. Before jumping on the racism bandwagon perhaps it is more constructive to be logical about the situation. If you don’t want to have your hair patted down, don’t wear a large style that could possibly fit something in your hair. If you feel it is your right to do so then accept the consequences, including the possibility that your hair may require additional screening. All in all, let’s choose our battles wisely.