July 1, 2016
By Tiffani Greenaway of MyMommyVents.com
Sun, sand, and ocean vibes were the only thing on my mind when my family and I set off on our Caribbean vacation last month. We were going to the Spice Isle to watch a beloved cousin get married, and everyone was excited. Boarding passes in hand, we headed to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) checkpoint at one of New York's largest airports, JFK. After taking my Adidas off and placing my tablet in a separate bin, I had just walked through the full body scanner when a woman looked me in the eye and told me that she just had to feel me up.
Girl! My husband is right there! I mean, at least take me out to dinner first.
The TSA agent let me know that even after the body scanner that ensured that my cookies did not stay in the jar, she still needed to pat down my hair. She felt around my crochet braids, and then let me collect my belongings.
I'm not the first Black woman to have her hair searched at the airport. Solange Knowles told Twitter about her experience in Miami, tweeting, "My hair is not a storage drawer.” Former MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry was another victim of the “full on fingers through the braids, scalp tickling treatment.” In a letter to the head of the TSA, she wrote, “if your $170,000 machine can see under my clothes, but can’t figure out I’m not hiding a bomb in my braids, maybe it’s time to recalibrate the machine.” These expensive scanners can see through clothes and certain types of body tissue to highlight hidden weapons and objects, but apparently, not Black hair.
"The humiliating experience of countless black women who are routinely targeted for hair pat-downs because their hair is 'different' is not only wrong, but also a great misuse of TSA agents' time and resources,” said Novella Coleman, Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.
After repeated complaints from the ACLU, the TSA claimed that changes were on the way. In March of 2015, they agreed to stop racially profiling women with natural hair and conduct onsite trainings for all LAX employees (one of the airports named in the complaints) centering on “race neutrality” with a "special emphasis on hair pat downs of African American female travelers."
Guess they just haven't had that training at JFK yet.