« BlogHer Pathfinder Day: My Blog As Change Agent - I'll be speaking | Main | Black Middle Class - What's It Like Out There for You? »

TSA Targeting Black Women With Natural Hair - TSA Subjected My Afro Puff to a Pat Down Twice 

I was reading this story about a Black woman who was targeted by the TSA  to have her hair pat down.

Earlier this month, a black womancomplained that while traveling, she was pulled aside by Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screeners so they could search her thick coifed hair.

She said she was racially profiled. TSA responded that it is their practice to search anything that looks too poofy, and so in the past TSA have faced criticism for searching a baby’s diaper and an elderly woman’s hair too.

It is not certain this was considered an incident exclusive and limited to black hair. Washington Times. 

I believe every word this woman is saying.  In all the airports that my afropuff has strolled through, I've only been targeted for a afropuff patdown by Black employees. 

The first time was in Washington, DC, by a male employee who appeared disgusted that I would wear my hair in its natural state. He was so unnecessarily dramatic. Eye rolling and lip smacking when I asked why my hair was being targeted and whether he made every Black woman with natural hair go through a pat down.  He dragged over an embarrassed Black woman ( who was wearing some type of polyesther ponytail-like object) to massage my scalp.  No doubt he's still at Reagan National harassing other Black women with natural hair who make it through the metal detector.  

I tweeted about it , but never thought to write a blog post about it, probably because flying is stressful.  The people in my twitter stream joked and asked if I had wires sticking out of my hair and the answer is no. 

This policy of targeting anything "poofy" automatically places Black women who don't relax their hair in the crosshairs and gives its employees who don't like natural hair an opportunity to target these Black women and put them through a humilating ritual to punish them from not relaxing their hair.  Whether that was the TSA's intention is irrelevant, as a practical matter, targeting "poofy" hair is de facto discrimination based on race. 

So if this has happened to you, you're not alone.  After reading this article, I'm going to write a letter to my Congressman and both US Senators requesting that the TSA start to collect data on the race and gender of individuals who clear the metal detectors, but are forced to have their hair inspected because of alleged "poofiness." I'd also like the race of the employee who makes the decision related to poofiness and  find out whether the TSA has done any testing or evaluation of the negative attitudes many of its African American employees may have about Black hair in its natural state. Yes, Black people can discriminate against other Black people, especially those of us who don't conform to Black community cultural norms by... GASP displaying our hair in the state that it exits the scalp. In my limited experience non-Black people aren't nearly as obsessed with what I do with my hair as other Black people.

I wonder which airport this woman was at when this happened. If it was in DC, I bet its the same eye rolling, lip smacking fool who accosted me. 

Now I guess my name will go on the list or people who always get a pat down.  You know there's a list for trouble-makers. 

If this happens to you at the airport, please make sure to read the name of the TSA agent who target you off of their name badge. No need to be dramatic about it, just memorize their name and send me an email as you proceed to your gate.

In review, according to this article and the TSA's "poofiness" response, its the policy of your government to target any African American woman who choses not to relax her hair... in the name of security.


Reader Comments (19)

OKkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk....reading this right now I'm livid! First of all, the scanners take care of any bodily items that can't be seen by the naked eye because they are naturally hidden under clothing, etc - the scanners are designed to see under your clothes, and through your body and in other places, like under hairdo's, etc.

Do these TSA agents subject the Tennessee white woman with the Dolly Parton hair, or the rocker white guy with big hair on top, and stringy hair all down his back, or the East Indian aunty with the long braid to undergo hair patdowns?? I highly doubt it.

I wear my hair natural a lot when traveling, but mine is always pinned back and lays pretty flat and looks more "acceptable" to racists, I guess, because I don't have it 'fro'd out. So I guess this is why noone has made a stink about it. But the point is that the TSA is supposed to determine if something is being hidden in your hair, right? So wouldn't it be reasonable to ascertain that people could hide something in straight hair using hairpins, rubber bands, headbands, tightly coiffed up-do's, french braids, and plaits, than in the open, poufy and curly styles of natural hair? Of course this is unlikely as well, but if the TSA is going to use their own stupid theory to use racists measures against Black women, then I figure they should use the same dumb logic on people with straight hair.

If these scanners can see straight through layers of clothing, and thus a persons entire body down to the rolls of belly fat, genitals and butt cracks, there is absolutely no way the scanners don't see through something as fine as hair, I don't care how curly.

This is ridiculous and I think that you, and all Black women being subjected to hair searches need to get together and FILE A CLASS ACTION LAWSUIT against the TSA and the airports in which these searches occurred.

This is straight up racism and discrimination, and feel free to call out the racist and discriminatory Black TSA agents with no qualms.

Make some serious noise and get Black media in on it, as well (at least those of any conscience, which I admit are limited).

Truly ridiculous.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMs Sick and Tired

this is a damn shame.I have poofy hair right now.I get relaxers sometimes but go long lengths of time without them.I like my hair poofy and straight.I'm not looking forward to being hair molested/fondled when I travel.
This is just a way for them to make black women feel as uncomfortable as possible.I do not for one minute believe this is in the name of security.Those people are just weird and have and intense hatred against anything that says BLACK.

I'm sorry you had to go through that Gem and all the other women who's hair is being targeted as some kind of potentially dangerous weapon.I wonder how many big haired Peggy Bundy's are recieving this treatment in comparison to my poofy aired sisters?

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTruth P.


I forget that you are a lawyer Gem,right?
What do you think about black people being able to sue other black people due to colorism?
Personally I think it is a GREAT thing.Color racist black people tell on themselves ALL the time.They yell their hatred and ACT on it ,so as to intentionally cause suffering,just like the kkk does.They are just downright BOLD and so I am hoping they continue to be as bold as ever,and I believe they will be, given the fact that coloracist practices just like racist practices are now punishable by law.

I only bring this up because if we can sue for coloracist practices,I'm sure negative treatment because of our natural hair is something that we could also sue BLACK people and others over as well.At least I hope so.

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTruth P.

Damn. And I'm planning on travelling possibly in September. My afro is always out, so I cringe at the thought of foreign hands invading my scalp. Of course, I haven't traveled since they enacted the new pat downs and such. Let's hope the folks at Hartsfield-Jackson have a bit more sense...I'd hate to lose my temper in the world's busiest airport....

July 18, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMesaATLien

Ms. Sick and Tired wrote

Do these TSA agents subject the Tennessee white woman with the Dolly Parton hair, or the rocker white guy with big hair on top, and stringy hair all down his back, or the East Indian aunty with the long braid to undergo hair patdowns?? I highly doubt it.

No the White woman with the Parton hair would most likely be groped by TSA agents during a security check. Read this horror story here:


And it gets worse from there:




So, I'm not surprised by Black women being harassed by the TSA for having natural hair. It's par for the course.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFred

In related news, the American Traveler Dignity Act of 2011 (HR 2438) has just been introduced in Congress. It is intended to crack down on TSA agents who think security checks are an excuse to harass people they don't like.

Here is the bill:


So, now we have a legal recourse to fight back against this harassment

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFred

Sooo....even if you go thru the Big Microwave and get zapped while TSA pervs look at all your goodies - you still have to be patted down? That's nuts, what do they think you can hide in your hair?

I travel a lot and it's never been pleasant dealing with Quan and Laquanisha man handling your stuff at the checkpoints - don't know if they were mad because I dared to be Black and Well Traveled or if their jobs were just that crappy.. But now, they HAVE to touch me??

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTracy


did you read this Gem.It's people like him that make it hard for women like us....And this is Oprah's hair stylist.

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTruth P.

MesaATLien said:

"Let's hope the folks at Hartsfield-Jackson have a bit more sense...I'd hate to lose my temper in the world's busiest airport...."

I'm telling you right now, don't count on them having any sense. The Atlanta airport is an extra kind of special and so are many of the folks who work there. Luckily I haven't had this happen to me, and I fly alot. And I've worn my hair in twist-outs, afros and puffs while flying. But I have had the TSA people in Atlanta trip over stupid stuff before.

I heard about this a few weeks ago, and after reading several articles and the accompanying comments, white women with curly/poofy hair have had their hair patted down as well. I also read about a case where they made an elderly white woman remove her depends. This is not to say that black women aren't targerted, because WE ARE about ALOT of stuff, but others have been subjected to this too. I think it's awful that more and more of our personal dignities are being compromised in the name of "security." It is ridiculous and it has to stop, because what's going to be next?

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMommieDearest

@Truth P.

I read that drivel from Andre Walker. The natural hair blogs lit up about it a couple weeks ago, to the point where he printed a "rebuttal" on his own website in an attempt to clear up how his statements were "misunderstood." All he did was dig his hole deeper while he put his other foot in his mouth. He's an idiot. But the scary thing is that he's a hair care "professional" and alot of women will treat his statements as gospel and believe his nonsense. *sigh*

July 19, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMommieDearest


Before even reading this post, I laughed to myself about a recent flight across the country.

Years ago, I was asked to feel under my *flat* bandana head-wrap because it could hide objects. Now I'm hearing "poofy" hair can hide objects.

This is all funny because:
I had my natural hair twisted under a wig on my most recent flight. Although my hair was bulging, the wig *appeared* flat. I wasn't bothered. Not once in four flights. I guess the flat appearance of my straight-bob wig didn't set-off any bells. Forget that I could have easily hidden the same stuff underneath the wig that a head-wrap would conceal. Eurocentric styles automatically pass...

Although the racist undertone of the new search may have been unintentional, perhaps it's time to enact random scalp searches since "straight" styles can harbor the same threats.

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterHawa Bond

I think Fred has it right (this time....LOL). It is the intrusive nature of the TSA and the poor screaning and training of its agents that have created the perfect storm for all sorts of personal bias, discrimination, stupid decision and even perversion to sneak into the process. They found a TSA agent with a history of stalking and a current accusation of sexual assault doing the pat downs (or "feel ups") at one airport.
Why not agents who act out their bias against black women who dare not to straighten their hair?

There has to be a better way. What is done in Europe and other countries that have had to deal with the real threat of terroism in the air longer than we have? I know they have large numbers of people of color from Africa and elsewhere who travel with natural hair who are not searched like this.

July 20, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBee


I think this happened in Seattle. So it seems like it's a system wide thing.

July 21, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVal

The TSA is a jobs program. Its central duty is to get everyone used to the police state of America. Don't believe for an instant that the TSA will limit its reach to airports, they are coming to a train and bus depot or mall near you!

We can blame this Rap-I-Scan and grope agenda starting with the War on Drugs. I've been harassed by airport personnel long before 9/11, so this type of crap is not new - they simply have so much much more leeway to be trifling jerks.

Airline screening should just be on the luggage. What people carry on board is irrelevant. There will never be a bomb carried on a person big enough to take a plane down. And people now know to jump on highjackers. So what is the point of the TSA? To create a police state, because the terrorism bogeyman makes money and jobs for certain groups of people. Just like the War on Drugs.

And as usual, we are on the front lines.

July 22, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBetty Chambers

@Betty Chambers

Rep. Ron Paul perfectly summed up how the TSA's behavior would not be tolerated if they did not fall under the realm of "security":

“The press reports are horrifying,” Paul said. “95-year-old women humiliated, children molested, disabled people abused. Men and women subjected to unwarranted groping and touching of their most private areas, and involuntary radiation exposure.”

“If the perpetrators were a gang of criminals, their headquarters would be raided by SWAT teams and armed federal agents,” Paul continued. “Unfortunately in this case, the perpetrators are armed federal agents. [...] The unfortunate fact that we put up with this doesn’t speak well to our willingness to stand up to an abusive government.”


July 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFred


Columnist Gene Healy, a frequent critic of the "War on Terror," reveals that the push for more security is increasing despite decisive victories like bin Laden's unlamented death:

We may be winning, but don't dare imagine that "victory" will take the form of a restoration of lost liberties. That's "defeatist" thinking. I suppose that's why, shortly after SEAL Team 6 killed bin Laden, Congress and the president's autopen got together to reauthorize the Patriot Act. The threat recedes, but the surveillance state must live on.

And there can be no talk of beating porno-scanners into plowshares. The Department of Homeland Security recently warned that terrorists might "surgically implant explosive devices" in their bodies.

Slate.com reports that several firms are already hard at work on scanners that can look inside our bodies instead of just inside our clothes. Like all other bureaucracies, the bureaucracy of fear has a merciless logic of its own. It exists to exist, generating new invasions of privacy -- and new federal contracts -- however speculative the threats.


So, we're down to two choices:

1. Grumble about being fondled and prodded by the TSA.

2. Tell our Congressman to vote to put the TSA back on its leash. The American Traveler Dignity Act of 2011 (HR 2438) would do just that.


Citizens or subjects? That's where we're at in America.

July 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFred


Here is the latest about the TSA. Possibly due to numerous complaints, the TSA is now trying out a new passenger interview process to weed out terrorists:


This grope-free and respectful anti-terror method has worked well in Israel so hopefully the same will be true in America.

August 5, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterFred

I was just looking up information if anyone else was searched because of their hair. My niece a caucasian had her french braid searched this morning leaving LGA airport. Very odd.

December 19, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkrh

I wish I had read this prior to traveling today. I wear long Senegalese Twists and was checked by a TSA agent at O'Hare Airport but, unfortunately did not get her name. This is ridiculous & I'm pretty sure this does not happen to white women so how is this even legal? Clearly it's a racist policy.

May 16, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterTracy Edwards

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>