It’s the ultimate bane of my existence when I’m traveling through the airport and have to step out of the security line in order for a TSA agent to pat down my hair.
And it seems the feeling is shared amongst many Black women I know. But a new report by ProPublica shows that our gripes did not fall on deaf ears. Five years ago the agency looked into practices concerning training for its workers on hair pat-downs.
But the inquiry may not have been extensive enough, after realizing that many Black women also complained about being pulled for a search after walking through the body scanners. Last summer in an effort to address those concerns, the agency reportedly asked its vendors for ideas “to improve screening of headwear and hair in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.”
The law bans any federal funded program or agency from participating in discriminatory practices on the basis of race, color or national origin.
Two TSA agents who spoke with the outlet shared how the current machines are most susceptible to signal off false alarms for Black women and women of color. In response TSA released a statement to ProPublica which stated they were “reviewing additional options for the screening of hair.”
“With black females, the scanner alarms more because they have thicker hair; many times they have braids or dreadlocks,” said a Texas TSA officer who chose to remain nameless. “Maybe, down the line, they will be redesigning the technology, so it can tell apart what’s a real threat and what is not. But, for now, we officers have to do what the machine can’t.”
In March ProPublica conducted a poll asking people about their experiences in the TSA line.
Out of 720 responses, 90 percent were women, with 313 identifying as white. 311 identified as Black and only 96 identified as other or mixed.
Most of the Black women attested to their experiences of feeling singled out by being receiving a pat down or more intrusive search.
And even if the technology is adjusted to be more inclusive of those who choose to travel, TSA still will need to rework an official rule which states that even if the machines do not sound off, agents are still able to conduct hair pat-downs if “an individual’s hair looks like it could contain a prohibited item or is styled in a way an officer cannot visually clear it.”
The rule could give justification to more racial bias, as the discretion is left solely up to the agent.