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TSA Officers Will No Longer Stop Black Women to Conduct Hair Searches in Airports

Avatar • Mar 29, 2015
solange-knowles-TSA-afro-patdown jorge rivas

Colorlines- Jorge Rivas

I’m sure we all remember when singer Solange announced that she had her hair searched publicly by TSA officers while traveling through the airport in 2012. Well, now thanks to two women the TSA has agreed to give up the practice altogether.

Neuroscientist, Malaika Singleton of Sacramento, CA was on her way to an academic conference in London when she was accosted by TSA officers who declared the need to publicly screen her sisterlocks:

I was going through the screening procedures like we all do, and after I stepped out of the full body scanner, the agent said, ‘OK, now I’m going to check your hair,’”

The TSA agents pulled and squeezed Singleton’s hair on her way to the conference and again when she returned home. Singleton then proceeded to contact the American Civil Liberties Union only to learn that a complaint had been filed by Novella Coleman, one of three black lawyers working there who also wore sisterlocks.

Coleman recalls having her sisterlocks searched on two separate occasions. When she asked the TSA officers for the reason of the search, she was told they needed to screen extensions and hair that was deemed to have “abnormalities.” Coleman then proceeded to file another complaint on behalf of Singleton’s incident.

The TSA soon issued an e‑mail to the ACLU to announce their plan to begin conducting training to eliminate discrimination of black female passengers:

MB (Multicultural Branch) will also commit to conducting an onsite training at LAX, subject to coordination with TSA LAX leadership, during the 2015 calendar year. In addition, even though TSA does incorporate nondiscrimination principles into its regular training, MB will work with the TSA’s Office of Training and Workforce Engagement to make certain that current training related to nondiscrimination is clear and consistent for TSA’s workforce. Furthermore, in light of recent concerns, MB will diligently work with TSA secured airports and monitor them for consistent implementation of DHS and TSA policies. MB will specifically track hair pat- down complaints filed with MB from African-American females throughout the country to assess whether a discriminatory impact may be occurring at a specific TSA secured location.”

What do you think of the TSA’s announcement? Has your natural hair been searched by the TSA in the airport?

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Bigantic
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Bigantic

Are these hair searches post 9/11 only?
I’ve never had my hair searched in the early to mid 1990s.

Dimples12553
Guest
Dimples12553

I have NEVER had this happen to me, and I travel out of JFK. I also travel several times a year for business and for pleasure. When I travel for pleasure I always have my hair in extensions. As a matter of fact, I have a certain manner of dress as not to ever set off the body scanner/wand device.

kalexa1
Guest
kalexa1

Maybe you should describe that ‘certain manner of dress’ here to help others.

Dimples12553
Guest
Dimples12553

Nothing all that special. I wear sweats and flip flops while going on vacation with my pocketbook and a mesh back pack. Depending on how cold it is, I may have on a light jacket with my skips in the backpack to put on once I get past security. My hair is in braids but not in a ponytail. Nothing special. I also travel during the early morning hours to catch the first flight out. I am maybe getting them first thing in the morning when there are not as many people around, I don’t know, but I have never… Read more »

Tabatha
Guest
Tabatha

Me too. If nothing gets set off I don’t get searched. I wear sneakers or ballet flats, no jewlery, no belts, no underwire bras. If I want jewelry and a belt then I put it in my carry on in a clear ziploc bag, so when I get to the line and such they see what’s in the bag and I put everything through conveyor belt. My hair has been in straight form, Cornrow form, braids and twists with extensions, and frowed and I’ve never had an issue. Once I get through the process I put on my belt and… Read more »

may
Guest
may

This happened to me, amazingly, with cornrows — with my natural hair! What could I have been hiding??? This was always about satisfying the curiosity of the TSA agent and making the black woman being searched feel less than. Mind you, the women above, as did I, had cleared the metal detector/ scanner. WTF!

kalexa1
Guest
kalexa1

Do you mean they made you loose your canerows?

Lee Torrey
Guest

That is pretty weird, if they check cornrows they should be checking everyone’s hair. Can’t hide nothin’ in no dang cornrows.

Redseouls
Guest
Redseouls

I have read this article several times and I even read the email, and I can’t find where it states that the TSA will stop searching Black women’s hair. I see where training is supposed to begin some time in 2015. I also read where MB will track pat down complaints from Black women, but I don’t see when this practice will end. Am I missing something?!?

Kimberly Springer
Guest

You’re right. The headline is misleading. Just because TSA plans to possibly implement training for the actors in their “security theater” doesn’t mean they’re changing policy in any substantial way. Training from one airport to the next is arbitrary, at best. I always make them change their gloves when they make this clearly racist demand. Why do the white women with “high hair” get to check their own hair. I’ve experienced this at least three times.

cassiejob
Guest
cassiejob

You’re right — I too have read both the article and the e‑mail and can’t find where it says they will stop, either. It just says that they will retrain their officers to be race neutral, whatever that means. I have mid-back length Sisterlocks, and this happened to me about a year ago coming back from vacation through Dallas airport, also (as many have stated) AFTER I had already been screened and cleared. I had my hair in a big ponytail piled on top of my head. I was so taken aback by the female TSA officer’s question/statement that she… Read more »

Ann
Guest
Ann

if you have large hair (regardless of ethnicity) that can’t be seen through, it is possible that there could be something in it (we all know terrorists are a very small percentage of the population but they are still active; just recently there was an attack at a New Orleans airport). The machine tells the officers where to double check, they’re just doing their job and they didn’t personally pick anyone they have to do additional screening on. Remember that because you only go through the checkpoint every now and then, you don’t see all the other people that also… Read more »

Neeks
Guest
Neeks

You keep on thinking there’s no discrimination there hun. Ignorance is bliss.

Tabatha
Guest
Tabatha

Well then I guess the Middle Easterns should be the most pissed off.

may
Guest
may

We are talking about people that have already been screened. You can’t “see through” long straight hair either (unless you’re balding). We don’t ask people to remove their clothes in the airport for security reasons. There is a limit to what is necessary and acceptable in these circumstances. These women were singled out for another reason. When are we going to learn that curiosity is not a good enough reason to lay your hands on another person.

Tabatha
Guest
Tabatha

You know what’s funny I guy in Russia did it willingly. Literally stripped but bare and walked through the metal detector. Something was going off on him and they kept stopping him so he stripped bare, put his stuff on the conveyor machine and walked right through. lol

Hanson
Guest
Hanson

We get it from all directions smh

Lenny972
Guest
Lenny972

They always go through my hair when I am wearing bobby pins

Bun lover
Guest
Bun lover

I’ve had to loosen my perfectly done braid bun after the full body scan at TSA checkpoint too *shrugs*.

wwmanner
Guest
wwmanner

Your choice or TSA requests? Sometimes people get frustrated and pull their hair down. We just need to be sure there is no contraband on your body

Alicia
Guest
Alicia

I didn’t know that was a thing. O.o

LeWall
Guest
LeWall

Seriously it’s not discrimination. I work for TSA and as a black female with natural hair. That machine will shows weaves, braids, head bands, ponytails and long hair as an anomolies. It shows on all races and on all genders. S

wwmanner
Guest
wwmanner

I too am TSA. Don’t forget ponytail holders , hair pins barretts, clips etc. on ALL races and genders. Anything not deemed normal to one’s body.

Rosa Boone
Guest
Rosa Boone

So, those things are seen by the machine as “anomolies.” No problem. The problem occurs when TSA agents NOT search the braids, long hair, ponytails (i.e., anomalies) of Caucasian individuals or those with Caucasian hair with the same frequency they search sister locks, dreads, and other Afro hair/styles.

Anonin
Guest
Anonin

My hair was searched.… WHEN IT WAS STRAIGHT WTF.

kalexa1
Guest
kalexa1

Yes, your hair may have met euro-centric standards somewhat BUT your skin colour cancelled out that ‘normality’ pass baby! (and was really the only overriding factor that mattered to them).

Ahmina
Guest
Ahmina

My hair has been searched almost every time I’m at the airport, and I wear my hair in a similar way to Solange. It’s annoying, I’m glad to now know what avenue to take to complain about it.

Camille
Guest
Camille

I would like to see the statistics for the things they find in black women’s hair. My guess is just a lot of bobby pins. I fly a lot but I’ve luckily never had anyone search my hair.

cheryl
Guest
cheryl

I personally think it’s backlash for those of us who dare to wear our “abnormal” natural hair! when is the last time you saw a black female terrorist?! How about.…half past NEVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tabatha
Guest
Tabatha

Well this is new to me! I’ve never been searched whether my hair was straightened, natural, or with extensions. I guess I’m pretty lucky. For me they could have been been over and spread in front of everyone in the name of safety as long as nothing gets on a plane cause if they put me through all of that and some nonsense happens on a plane I will be miffed!

Jordan
Guest
Jordan

I’m a male with locks and they search my hair everytime I go through. Sometimes it’s black women with natural hair searching my hair. I never think twice about it as long as I make it to my gate on time…

Adía
Guest
Adía

yes

Adía
Guest
Adía

I hate getting searched when I spend so much time piling my hair up. I’ll see if any searching stop when I fly in a couple of weeks. I doubt it..

Naa
Guest
Naa

On my way to my destination I had my twists in a pony tail, and was told to let it down and it was searched. So on my way back, I had it down and it was still patted down. I get a head massage every time I travel through LAX with extensions.

SaraM
Guest
SaraM

I feel like this.….. check whatever you need to check so we don’t have no more Osama Bin Laden’s.
#pointblank&the.

Observant
Guest
Observant

It’s not only African Americans with locks who gets the hair search..It seems it’s all black women with locks..since it happened to me as well and my locks were in a ponytail…

Tameisha Campbell
Guest
Tameisha Campbell

You two miss the point. This woman was wearing her OWN God-given hair in tiny locs (that’s how sister locs look). What is abnormal about that??? Long hair?? I’ve never seen anybody searched with long hair, about at least 50% of women have long hair. What is long to TSA?

NeMedlock
Guest
NeMedlock

I don’t have locks but my hair was also searched in a Dallas airport When I wore my hair in a twist out!

Kelhill
Guest
Kelhill

As an African American male, I got my dreadlocks searched twice while traveling

Lo
Guest
Lo

My hair ALWAYS gets checked and it’s usually straight when I travel but I’ve never thought anything of it just assumed it was because I sometimes have had bobby pins or a few clip extensions in but it’s usually a quick pat down nothing major.

Cierra
Guest
Cierra

My puff is always checked. I thought it wS because of bobby pins!

Joanna
Guest
Joanna

I’ve had both locs and loose hair and have boarded at least 50 domestic and international flights and never had anyone touched my hair. If you don’t beep, they usually don’t search you unless you’ve been automatically selected for actual pat downs. I believe even that is random. As a very frequent flyer, I rather people are extensively searched, yes hair, burkas and hajibs included than have someone sneak some shit on a plane. You can’t have it all!

Lynell
Guest
Lynell

The machine displays a yellow square in the area of the body that needs to be searched. For any reason, it always alarms on any hair that isn’t flat and straight. In fact, it alarms on bald people probably because it deems the lack of hair as an anomaly. It has nothing to do with race or the officers or TSA as an agency. I’m so tired of everything we do being scrutinized. If you get your hair patted down, take it as a compliment, you have unique and interesting tresses. Relax. I need a new job before I lose… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

Oh please. People are so sensitive. My husband had a sprained ankle and TSA probed in and under his brace and finally made him take it off. My husband was grimacing in pain but he never complained he just went with it. Search my hair I could use a good head massage. Geez!

Tracie
Guest
Tracie

Le Sigh…

Jess
Guest
Jess

But i get it, in SA there was a women who was caught smuggling drugs across the board. Makes sense since its such big hair.

Asian chica
Guest
Asian chica

I’m Asian and have had my hair searched many times when it’s tied up in a twist or bun. Apologies to those who are being discriminated against, truly, but sometimes they can’t see through hair!

Sam
Guest
Sam

I’m white and I have my hair searched every single time I go through the airport because it’s puffy and anyone could easily hide something in it. This isn’t racist lol

dylan
Guest
dylan

In order for something to stop it had to start. Targeting for hair has never been a thing.

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

I travel weekly and until recently I had to get my hair squeezed and pat down. On many occasions my hair was no thicker or bigger than others.

filmfan
Guest
filmfan

Did anyone see Coffy starring Pam Grier? I remember a scene where she was putting razors blades in her afro. The whole time I was thinking “what is she doing?” I was thinking of my breakage issues…Anyways in the next scene she got into a fight with another woman and the woman went for the afro. She ended up getting her hands shredded up. Just thought I would share. Its a great movie.

R Says
Guest
R Says

My only issue is the dirty gloves. Gently check, if needed, but I should be able to request a glove change after patting down possibly hundreds of people before me.
I work to hard to maintain healthy hair, to get a case of lice/bedbugs/or other scalp ailments due to dirty gloves!

Lee Torrey
Guest

Then people wonder why some black folks walk around upset. Seriously.… Can anything be more humiliating? I’m glad they are going to stop, but it should have never began in the first place. Crazy world we live in.…

Oratilwe
Guest
Oratilwe

I understand why one would be upset but there are many cases where people with afros and dreadlocks- not just black people though- have tried to smuggle drugs and carry weaponry in their hair.

We’d be even more upset if we saw even more places being torn to shreds because of drug use …

Anywolf
Guest
Anywolf

Absolutely, Lee. This is the example I’ll be using with my white friends from now on when I’m trying to get them to grasp the idea that they DON’T understand what it’s like to be discriminated against. I’ve accidentally taken a glass knife through the scanner. It didn’t show up. There are LOTS of things people can do to smuggle something past the scanners, but mostly, people DON’T do that shit. Why wouldn’t black women feel offended and singled out? I mean, REALLY? White people already don’t tend to be respectful of beautiful black women’s hair–actually reaching out and touching… Read more »

case pase
Guest
case pase

To some of the comments made; it’s not that we’re being sensitive..it’s that it happens on such a consistent basis it’s just annoying & tiresome at this point.

Helena Showell
Guest
Helena Showell

Well, now, let me see…returning from a Thanksgiving 2014 trip in Colorado, I had my waist-length locs in a nice updo held together with a bunch of hairpins. I never gave it a thought until the scanner picked up the pins, the TSA woman agent quickly and gently patted my hair, chuckled about the pins, and then said that my hairstyle was pretty. I never felt offended at all. I have more serious things with which to be concerned!

Rin Price
Guest
Rin Price

I don’t think I’d take it as a compliment seeing as how they’re checking for bombs, drugs and weapons, lol.

Rin Price
Guest
Rin Price

My hair was searched before flying while it was straightened. Since my hair is now mostly natural and I straightened it myself, it wasn’t bone straight but a little fluffy. The TSA agent said she’d check my hair, and right when I thought it was over she kept kind of “digging” into it more than necessary for pretty straight hair. I talked to my sister about it when I reached her house and it didn’t really occur to me how objectifying the experience felt until it was already over. “R Says” posted before me about the dirty gloves thing and… Read more »

Wanda Edie
Guest
Wanda Edie

I get my hair searched every time I fly. My hair is pretty big and I dont really care because technically I could hide something in there if I want to lol. But yeah, clean gloves please

BubzLife Starlight
Guest
BubzLife Starlight

They shouldn’t had been checking BLACK women’s hair ANYWAYS : Still offended

Social
Guest
Social
Liz
Guest
Liz

I used to get my hair check all the time. I fly frequently with my job. I started asking for a private screening. One female officer was nice enough to tell me I had the option one trip. That made it much much less humiliating. Plus I never had time to fix my twist out before heading straight to a meeting (I have very fine hair, unravels easily). All I can say is Thank God for TSA pre-check! No more disruption of my hairstyles smh. If I was traveling for pleasure/personal reasons I really wouldn’t care as much. In my… Read more »

Nikki
Guest
Nikki

On behalf of TSA and also bein a black women myself it is not their objective to single out black women I work for TSA for five and a half years and the body scanners are not always accurate. If the machine says that you have an anomaly in your hair or any place else then it is there job to check that anomaly they have also have problems with wires bra and belt buckles people wear necklaces hairpieces it is not just about the black woman’s hair there has been Hispanic women and white women who have also had… Read more »

Marcy
Guest
Marcy

I can count the number of times I’ve worn weave or extensions on both hands. Yet, I have been physically search at least half of the 30+ times I’ve flown. I use to think I was just an easy mark for airport security to get their quota in. For instance, I’ve been searched in groups, alone or with female relatives, however, my ex husband was 6“3 and 280 pounds…Never Searched!

Niki
Guest
Niki

I travel quite a bit for work and if input my pics in a bun on the top of my head will they ask me to take it down? I have shells and a couple tiny metal jackets around a few. I’ve always told myself that the hair jewelry nd bra pop up on the machine.

Camilla Hudson
Guest
Camilla Hudson

I understand but it’s still a problem. Maybe the humans who program the body scanners need to reevaluate how they program the machine and how an “anomaly” is detected. The fact that nonexistent “anomalies” are frequently detected in the natural hair of Black women indicates that there’s clearly a problem. If this same thing was happening in the genital area of white men, it would get fixed — quickly!

Melody Mise
Guest
Melody Mise

Even at the criminal justice center, if the walk through scanner buzz, because of hair pins, and the search officer’s realize that, she does have hair pins, in her hair, they still don’t run their fingers through it, that’s going pretty dam far, especially if you don’t have a search warrant, my hair is, part of my soul, and I can feel vibes, when a freak is fondeling though it.

Chinyere Osuji
Guest
Chinyere Osuji

I have locs and my hair has been searched and patted many, many times. Pisses me off, every single time.

Rach
Guest
Rach

As long as they are checking women of other races with big hair as well it seems quite fair. People hide things in baby diaper’s and various other things. If they are doing it for my safety,then thank you. When people have to take of their hats off at the checkpoint they can also complain of a ruined hairstyle or whatever. I feel there are more important issues such as Arabs or anyone who looks like they have middle eastern and Asian blood being singled out all the time.

Melanie Funchess
Guest
Melanie Funchess

Rach, What you have dissected as two separate issues are actually two manifestations of the same issue. As a Black woman with traditional locks I get singled out for INTRUSIVE PUBLIC SEARCHES of my hair EVERY TIME I travel. I have seen white women with OBVIOUS wigs that were not searched . How is my natural hair an “abnormality” when something artificial is not??? I’m not dismissing the profiling of my Muslim brothers and sisters I’m just highlighting that our issues are the same in this regard. My Locs are not just a hairstyle and having them fondled by strangers… Read more »

Jamal Warner
Guest
Jamal Warner

Any room for discretion will leave to abuses such as focusing only on people of color hair, while overlooking other races. It has been the norm when it comes to things as the War on drugs. It is always at the discretion of police, which result in blacks being unfairly targeted. I apply this same discretion to TSA, who will target women of color.

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afsfaf
Guest
afsfaf

This is ridiculous. We don’t carry bombs on planes, period. Black American women don’t do that.

Julia
Guest
Julia

I have thick curly blonde hair, and it’s been searched by TSA before. It’s not purely a race thing.

Medusa
Guest
Medusa

I’ve only been to the airport once, about 6 yrs ago, but when I went through scanning I had a weave. The young black man was the one observing and I don’t think he could tell..lol my weave had leave out so it looked natural. Had they been able to tell I bet my hair would have been searched which is unfortunate. I feel like it’s even worse for us who wear our natural hair because we can’t help that our hair is thicker than other races. I wish they could make some type of scanner that picks up on… Read more »

Jamal Warner
Guest
Jamal Warner

Any room that allow this type of action at the discretion of TSA agents will lead to abuses such as focusing only on people of color hair, while overlooking other races. It has been the norm when it comes to things as the War on drugs. It is always at the discretion of police, which result in blacks being unfairly targeted. I apply this same discretion to TSA, who will target women of color.

Cait
Guest
Cait

I’m a white girl, with not very thick hair, but about 75% of the time I fly my hair gets searched. I’m sorry that anyone feel discriminated against, but it’s not a race thing. When I ware my hair naturally curly or up Ina pony tail or bun, they search it. If it’s down and straight they don’t.

beautivella
Guest
beautivella

When My hair was straighten it was not searched at all.… I used to wear it down and in a ponytail and the only comments I would get from a TSA officer was if it were all mine.

Misti
Guest
Misti

On average, black folks hair texture is not straight. So, we should relax or burn our hair to get it straightened for others convenience? Please. I feel if you’ve already gone through the body scanner, then why continue to harass folks.

Cait
Guest
Cait

Don’t make this into something it’s not!

janee
Guest
janee

As a natural TSO this is ridiculous. I hope you feel safe knowing just because you dont want your hair touched anyone can now smuggle ied components, fire arms, ect in their hair because you feel uncomfortable. Hope you feel safe on your flight knowing we cant do our job adequately over your hair.

Misty
Guest
Misty

No, you’re ridiculous…if you can’t try to understand how people with textured hair can feel offended.

Gracey
Guest
Gracey

Because someone is offended is a ridiculous reason to put everyone’s safety at risk.

tester70
Guest
tester70

I always get searched because my bra wires are the “abnormality” Even though it’s very obvious I am well endowed thus the essential need for wires in my bra which in turn would not be “abnormal” So I sacrifice my personal comfort and only wear sports bras to the airport now. But, whenever I wear braids they wish to search my hair no matter if its up or down. I request the person puts on fresh gloves for sanitation purposes and I ask them to let me “move it around” because the braids are usually fresh and my scalp is… Read more »

tester70
Guest
tester70

I get a hair pat every time, regardless if my natural hair is in an afro or braids. I request that they put on a fresh pair of gloves for sanitation purposes. I ask them to let me “move it around” because my head is extremely tender especially after a fresh braiding session. Generally most of them if they are white don’t mind and the black ones understand and both have comply with my request so far. And as for the wires in my bra…REALLY I am obviously well endowed so if all your scanner picks up are the wires… Read more »

Common sense
Guest
Common sense

Probably the dumbest article I’ve read on the Internet. If you have braid, hair pins, extensions of any kind (weave) hair clips, etc- anything that the body scanner machine will take as foreign object in your hair, because the machines does NOT take into account those things, YOUR HAIR WILL BE PATTED DOWN…whether you’re black, white, green, or alien.

SisterTruth
Guest
SisterTruth

You clearly don’t understand the article. That’s why it seems ridiculous to you. SisterLocs is a natural hairstyle. It is not extensions, fake, or foreign. It’s as natural as the hair people are born with but in a locked style. So, therefore, women wearing their natural hair shouldn’t have to have their hair patted down or searched once they’ve walked through a full body scanner.

Monifa Bandele
Guest
Monifa Bandele

DUDE! Locs ARE my hair, not extensions. That’s the whole point. Our natural hair is being searched: afros, locs, braids. In fact, I’ve been on line with women wearing wigs who weren’t searched. This practice is about searching black hair.

Reina
Guest
Reina

I had to trip to CO and the TSA agent, happened to be white man asked me to take down my hair. I hadn’t gone through the full body scanner. I told him I’d rather go through the full body scanner then to take down my fresh Senegalese twists from out the bun it took me 20 mins and 4 Tylenol to put up. He agreed.

Misty
Guest
Misty

I don’t see them patting down old white ladies wigs. TSA hair pat down’s — what a joke!

Misty
Guest
Misty

A sprained ankle will heal, and the brace will eventually be removed. Your husband’s temporary brace is no comparison.

Aisha
Guest
Aisha

First time this happen to me I was in Canada. I felt like I was being singled out because of my kinky hair wig. I had to go into into a booth and remove it which which was not a problem but I wondered iwof people with straight-hair wigs had to go through the same thing.

Nyanza Dee
Guest
Nyanza Dee

I have long locs and it happens to me almost everytime. It’s an indirect, some would day even direct, discrimination.

Allie
Guest

Every time. Even when my hair was in two strand twists with my scalp showing.

Bianca
Guest

Flew 3 weeks ago. Still happens.

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