Malaika Singleton and Novella Coleman complained after Transportation Security Administration agents stopped them to search their hair. Both ladies were wearing their natural hairstyles when they were stopped and searched in the airport.
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Coleman, whose hair was styled in dreadlocks, told BuzzFeed News that TSA workers “singled her out” several years ago and searched her hair three times. On one occasion she asked why her hair was being checked, and she was told that agents search hair that has “abnormalities.” Colemand said, “Just that phrase is stigmatizing in itself.”
Coleman, who is a staff lawyer with the ACLU of Northern California, made her complaint in 2012, but the TSA didn’t revise their search policies.
In 2013, Singleton had a similar experience when was traveling from Los Angeles to London. She too was stopped while the TSA searched through her hair, and en route back, her hair was searched again during a layover in Minneapolis.
“The first time I was shocked,” Singleton said to BuzzFeed. “I just did not expect that. I felt violated.” She said that she was never given a reason for why her sister locks were singled out and searched.
Since the complaints of Singleton and Coleman, the TSA is implementing training designed to stop the searches targeted against black women’s hair.
The TSA confirmed the new policy to BuzzFeed:
“TSA reached an informal agreement with the ACLU to enhance officer training. Racial profiling is not tolerated by TSA. Not only is racial profiling prohibited under DHS and agency policy, but it is also an ineffective security tactic.”
The agreement also promises to keep a record of complaints from black women to “assess whether a discriminatory impact may be occurring” at specific airports.