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TSA Body Scanners Appear To Be Discriminating Against Black Women’s Hairstyles

By Victoria M. Walker

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According to a detailed ProPublica report, full-body scanners frequently give “false alarms” on Black women’s hair, an action some women say is discriminatory.

The millimeter wave machines, a whole-body imaging system used by the Transportation Security Administration, are highly prevalent at U.S. airports and other airports around the world. The TSA introduced full-body scanners at airports nationwide beginning in 2009.

Black women have complained that their hairstyles, which include afros, braids and locs, have been singled out during the security screening. Dorian Wanzer, a Black woman, told ProPublica that despite the hairstyle, she still receives hair pat-downs when she flies.

“It happens with my natural afro, when I have braids or two-strand twists. Regardless,” Wanzer told ProPublica. “At this point in my life I have come to expect it, but that doesn’t make it any less invasive and frustrating.”

TSA told ProPublica in a statement that the agency “is reviewing additional options for the screening of hair.”

It appears the TSA has heard at least some of the complaints. The agency asked for ideas in 2018 “to improve screening of headwear and hair in compliance with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act,” according to ProPublica.

A senior TSA official who requested anonymity denies any discriminatory practices. “I get a hair pat-down every time I travel. I’m a white woman,” she told ProPublica. However, Black women have shared stories of uncomfortable experiences with TSA hair searches for years.

“@AskTSA @TSA I thought you all stopped checking black women’s hair?,” a woman, who said she had a negative experience at Orlando Airport in 2018, tweeted. The agency acknowledged the tweet saying, “We don’t tolerate profiling.”

“Soooo @TSA we are still harassing black women…pulling us aside to dig through our hair? I can’t count how many others that went through with large buns and had no issue,” @GOTTI_6 tweeted in 2018.

TSA responded to the tweet, saying that hair searches are “non-discriminatory.”

“Pat-downs follow strict protocols and a case-by-case, non-discriminatory assessment on if a passenger’s hair could conceal prohibited items or other threats,” the agency tweeted.

“When you find yourself in that kind of situation, it makes you wonder,” Wanzer continued. “Is this for security, or am I being profiled for my race?”

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Victoria M. Walker

Victoria M. Walker is an award-winning multimedia journalist and full-time lecturer in the Department of Media, Journalism, and Film at her alma mater, Howard University. She was previously the breaking news and viral content video editor at The Washington Post.

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