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Natural Hair Searches at the Airport: The TSA and Passport Politics

Whether you are about to take the trip of a lifetime or a work related jaunt, literally a thousand things can go through your head before you board. Aside from getting to the airport on time, flying outfits and whether your upgrade is sealed, according to the Joe Sharkey of  The New York Times Parlouristas with natural hair have a another worry, The TSA:

“Ms. Nance was departing from the airport in San Antonio in late July. After she passed through the body scanner, she said, a female T.S.A. screener told her to stand facing her possessions. “You’re good to go, but first I have to pat your hair,” the officer told her shesaid. “I’m like, pat my hair? O.K., I guess,” Ms. Nance said.” … “She asked the screener why her hair was searched while others, including white women with ponytails or bushy hair, were simply waved through. “Is it just African-American women with natural hair who get the hair search?” she asked.

The screener said no, “But if you have certain kinds of ponytail or bun, you have to get your hair patted … ”

While reading Sharkey’s piece, I released a knowing sigh. Ms. Nance’s ordeal has happened to me twice and both times I was flying within the United States. Unlike airports in the United Kingdom, where special lanes for women with hijab (headscarves) abound, America has a little bit of catching up to do when it comes to women whose hair is covered or, if uncovered, is not silky straight. Granted, I’ve been know to walk around with a pen stuck in my curls but I think a bag of dope or a component to a pipe bomb would be very noticeable and set off plenty of alarms while going through the checkpoint. To the defense of the TSA, my mind wanders to the scene in Casino when Nicky makes is wife give him the diamonds she hid in her bun — but isn’t that what these new scanner machines are for? It can show you my goodies but you can’t see through my up-do?

Still, is refusing a hair search worth missing your flight and delaying your plans? Where do you draw the line?

Read the rest of the piece here and tell me what you think in the comments below.

Last 5 posts by Shannon Washington

  • Arleneep…blackorchid

    i’ve had my head scanned with the wand when my hair is straight, under a scarf and has bobby pins (which of course sets off the alarms), but i have yet to have my natural curls patted down.

  • I’ve had my pompador scanned (lots of bobbi pins…) but never my fro. I also don’t like strangers touching my hair so …. I’m not looking forward to this. At all. Sidenote: Why can I keep my shoes ON in Spanish, French and British airports but am damn near naked in the US? No thanks. 

  • alysia christiani

    i just had my twists patted down in south america on my way back to the states… the agent also felt up the underwire in my bra…it was a quick but unpleasant experience..