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TSA, Don't Touch My Hair: Reports Reveal Airport Body Scanners Discriminate Against Black Women

Human Interest

As I stood in a spread-eagle stance with a female TSA agent using the back of her hand to check my crotch for weapons, I thought to myself, What the hell? Even though I know she meant no harm and was only doing her job, my personal space felt violated. Since I had experienced this so many times in the past, I guess I never thought twice about it. Until now.


As I exited the giant body scanner, I almost anticipated the green blotch on the screen that indicated that I may be carrying explosives in my hair (and/or crotch) and prepared myself to be touched in all of my private spaces in a room full of people.

Until last week, I had never really realized that every time (and I mean every damn time) I go through airport security, my hair seems to set off a number of alarms.

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According to this article from Mother Jones, the number of people who complained about racial discrimination went up from 78 in 2017, to 105 in 2018 and based on my own experiences at the airport, this isn't hard to believe.

Although I'm grateful and appreciative of the men and women who protect us from terrorism and danger every day, I have a personal message for members of the Transport Security Administration: Please, stop touching my hair. After standing in line, taking off my shoes, and emptying my laptop bag, the last thing I want is a stranger with latex gloves to (not so tenderly) stroke my tresses. Again, I get it. These officers are only doing their jobs, jobs that have saved us from ever experiencing another 9/11. But can't a sister speculate?

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The TSA is reportedly one of the most diverse agencies in the federal government, so why is it such a hassle for those with natural hairstyles to go through security at the airport? Although TSA officers may not be intentionally prejudiced against people of color, ProPublica recently reported that the high-tech body machines that take three-second full body mugshots before we can head to our terminal may be part of the problem.

One TSA agent from Texas told Mother Jones:

"With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks. Maybe, down the line, they will be redesigning the technology, so it can tell apart what's a real threat and what is not. But, for now, we officers have to do what the machine can't."

While public safety is far more important that enduring a two-minute pat down, it's just downright annoying that the density of my hair can trigger certain alarms. Excuse me if I'm wrong, but I would hope that in 2019, our airport security technology would be a little bit more advanced, don't you think? In a statement released by ProPublica, TSA explained that they are now looking into additional ways to screen hair that are more socially and culturally appropriate, and it's about damn time. To be fair, TSA mentions on their website that wearing extensions or a hairpiece can automatically trigger the body scanner:

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"Hair accessories such as bobby pins, metal clips, ties, wraps, and even bows may cause an alarm. This may also include clip-on extensions, wigs, toppers, and certain hairstyles such as braids or a hair bun. To avoid any potential delays, it's best to keep it simple while going through security. You can always style your hair to your liking after you've gone through screening and right before you board your flight."

In other words, to avoid additional screening, pack that ponytail in your carry-on and whip that bad boy out after you get through TSA. Otherwise, prepare for a pat down.

Although this is a problem that needs to be dealt with ASAP, body scanner discrimination will not stop me from getting flewed out. TSA agents have a job to do, so my beef is not with you. Thank you for your service, fam. But until they make some much-needed updates to these machines, it's my hope that the TSA finds a new way to keep us safe while staying out of my personal space, please... And thank you.

Featured image by Getty Images.

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