Afro Pat Down: Safety First or Intrusive

I can’t believe I forgot to tell you guys about my afro pat down at the Little Rock airport! I was coming back to Detroit after spending 5 days in Arkansas with my family and I decided wearing an afro would be comfortable enough for sitting on the plane. My mistake.

I should have realized how serious the security in LIT was when TSA agents looked really terse and moved things along with a German efficiency I’d never seen in the South. I put all of my stuff on the belt to be x-rayed and then I stepped into my own x-ray.

When I stepped out, I was stopped by a woman so she could search my hair. All she told me was, “Ma’am, I’m just gonna check your hair.” And man, did she check. With gloved hands, she reached way down to scalp and fiddled around until she came up empty-handed. While it was happened, I thought to myself: “Dammit, I knew this was going to happen.”

The whole thing occurred so quickly that I didn’t have time to react. I just grabbed my stuff, put my shoes and belt back on and headed out. Afterwards, I felt a little embarrassed. I was pulled aside for something so natural and was kinda made an example of.

But there’s the whole safety concern. In a hyper-aware, post 9-11 society where you can’t be too careful because we still have underwear bombers coming out the woodwork. Lackadaisical habits have gotten us into a some trouble, sure, but remember, America is a reactive society. Shit happens then we must do something. And all too often, we over-correct on that icy road.  If I wanted to hide a bomb, a small weapon, or more than 3 oz of liquid, my hair would probably be the last place to hide it.

Then I found out I was not the first afro to get poked and prodded. Last year, Isis Brantley’s hair was searched at Atlanta’s Hartfield-Jackson International Airport.

While Brantley’s hair is a lot larger than mine, I still believe that TSA agents gave her hair a little too much credit. Her hair is the bomb, it’s not containing a bomb! Brantley felt publicly humiliated and afterwards.

Brantley said an agent asked her if someone had checked her hair. She said no one had and continued on her way. She then heard someone yelling as she went down the escalator to catch her flight.

“I just heard these voices saying, ‘Hey you, hey you, ma’am, stop. Stop — the lady with the hair, you,” she said.
Two TSA agents told her she could not go any further until they checked her hair for explosives, Brantley said.
She said she reluctantly allowed them to do it. The agents patted her hair down right there instead of asking to return to a private area for screening.
“And so she started patting my hair, and I was in tears at that point,” Brantley said. “And she was digging in my scalp.”
What’s interesting is that a TSA supervisor apologized afterward.
    
“She said, ‘Ma’am, please, I promise you, I’m going to take care of it. I’m so sorry that happened to you,'” Brantley said. “And I’m like, ‘OK, that’s weird.'”
So there was something about that exchange between Brantley and the TSA agents that even a supervisor had taken issue with. I worry that while we’re making the nation safer, it comes at a potentially high price. I know we’ve heard that old drum beat, but isn’t there something off-putting about this whole thing? If Brantley and I both went through the body scanners, shouldn’t that have been enough? Is there anything on the human body that’s off limits? Well, I guess I’ve answered my own question.
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