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New York Times article on TSA Natural Hair Patdowns


Image found at: http://www.rlc.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/tsa-logo.gif

I don’t know how you feel about airport security. I for one want to feel safe in the airport and have confidence that the plane, crew and passengers all pass the muster. Recently, however, I’ve been concerned that a lack of education may be causing natural hair wearers to receive disproportionate attention from Transportation Security Administrator (TSA) screeners. An article published yesterday on NYTimes.com (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/16/business/natural-hair-pat-downs-warrant-a-rethinking.html) explores this issue. The article does a nice job of addressing the notion that Black, women, natural hair wearers may experience “cultural pushback” even from other Black women. I’d add that the cultural pushback may even originate from the self. After all we are all affected by the cultural norms of the societies in which we live (you may disagree with the norms, rebel against them, decry them but you are still affected by them in some way, shape or fashion). I know I’ve had my share of personal moments when I looked at my kitchens (interesting blog about it: http://blackerberry.wordpress.com/2008/09/13/hair-changes-from-birth-the-kitchen-the-pick-pressing-hair/) and frowned, upset that I either had to “do something” to the hair on the nape of my neck or cover it up. Yes, cultural pushback is a real issue and I’m delighted that Mr. Sharkey raised this point.

I also appreciate the fact that Mr. Sharkey noted that White women with similarly voluminous hair do not seem to experience pat downs to the same degree as Black women natural hair wearers. Of course, Mr. Sharkey did not conduct an empirical study, however the anecdotal evidence suggests that there may indeed be differences in how the two groups of women are treated by TSA screeners. Wouldn’t it be great if the TSA investigated this? I guess folks would say that the TSA is too busy protecting us to protect our rights.

I also have a few issues with the article. It opens by saying that the protagonist, Ms.Nance, “has a thing about her hair” and quotes her as saying that she doesn’t use chemicals or straighteners and instead wears her natural texture. Why does this equate to having a thing about her hair? She is wearing her hair as it grows out of her head!!! Also, Mr. Sharkey refers to natural hair wearers as being defensive when they become irritated by requests to touch their hair. Now you KNOW how that can go over (insert). Hey, maybe I’m just another defensive natural hair wearer. But, I think if I asked to touch Mr. Sharkey’s underarm, mouth or some other personal area he might understand that it is human to negatively respond to violations of personal space. This is not something specific to natural hair wearers. It would have been great if Mr. Sharkey had drawn this parallel.

All in all, I would submit to a TSA screener patting down my hair but I would be asking questions the whole time. I know, some of you might think that I should keep my mouth shut. Hey, I can’t do that, this is me pushing back on culture.

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