If my life were a soundtrack, “Never Let Me Down” off of Kanye West’s first album would definitely be one of the tracks – in particular for my favorite line “Racism is still alive/They just be concealing” I am not normally a conspiracy theorist, but every now and then blatant racism will rear its ugly Medusa head. In those times, I hear Kanye …
I should preface the rest of this story by letting you know that five months ago, I made the decision to stop relaxing my hair. It wasn’t because of current trends and it wasn’t because I am anti-perm or chemicals. It wasn’t for “the movement” – it was simply because I want to maintain a connection to my late uncle and he had beautiful dreadlocks. In order for me to dread, I had to “go natural”.
It has been an interesting journey to say the least – one saturated with as many second thoughts as bad hair days. In fact, because of the sheer awkwardness of my hair’s current state, I have sought refuge in wigs and braided styles. (This is not to say that I have never done so before, I have been known to get wiggy with it! Just not on a regular basis.)
My newest wig is a big beautiful curly afro. I look at it and see my own mane’s potential destiny. My natural hair could very well be hair that size with those curls one day. I smile just writing that. But this weekend I learned that my fro – whether natural or purchased at my local hair supply store – isn’t something that everyone will smile at. In some eyes, a big beautiful afro is a bigger threat.
On my way home from North Carolina, I had my first real encounter with the TSA. Usually, when I fly I try to be as comfy as possible; shoes that slip on and off, no belts, minimal accessories. An outfit that can have you in and out of security in no time. Sunday afternoon was no different, I wore a maxi-dress and wedges, the only accessories were my watch and a bracelet I’d made the day before. So image my surprise when I was pulled aside and told that I required additional search.
“Because you are wearing a dress we are going to have to pat you down to make sure you aren’t concealing anything.”
Insert blank stare.
“Under my dress?”
blank stare. Awkward silence.
“We can do so in a private room if you’d like”
The agent and her colleague escorted me to 8 x8 curtained off section of the security space. She proceeded to slide her hand up and down the lower half of my body.
After the first leg I wanted desperately to ask if I could just lift up my dress and show them there was nothing underneath. I felt dirty. I felt shame. I was embarrassed. I was made to feel as though I had done something wrong… even though I knew wearing a dress through the airport was far from a criminal offense, it certainly felt like it was. In her eyes, it was cause for further probing; I only wish she would have outright said your hair makes you a target.
Once they were done, I convinced myself that searches like that are what keeps people from bombing planes with their shoes, and hijacking them with box cutters. “It is the price we pay for safety”, I thought.
When I was, again, sent through security in a second airport while making my way to my connecting flight, that whole theory went right out of the window.
Racism is still alive.
Again, I took off my shoes, took my laptop out of the case, and followed the standard procedures. I stood with my legs shoulder width apart and my hands above my head for the full body scan. All very run of the mill. Then it happened a second time. I was pulled to the side and told that she had to search my hair.
Now what now?
They just be concealing it.
This big beautiful curly hair? The look of disgust on my face had to have said more than any words I would have uttered. Two other TSA workers watched empathetically as this woman dug into my curls and felt around for…concealed weapons?…drugs?….whatever it is that criminals hide in their hair.
I felt defeated. I ended up missing my connecting flight because of the second search among other travel mishaps (like sitting on the tar mack for twenty minutes before take off). By then, the wig I was absolutely in love with was —> <—- this close to being tossed in a nearby garbage can. I was ready to resign for my new membership on #teamnatural
But as the poem at the end of Never let Me Down, says “We are all here for a reason on a particular path. You don’t need a curriculum to know that you are part of the math.”
I am on Team Natural for a reason, and a little harassment isn’t about to change that.