Laura Adiele had her curly hair physically searched at Seattle Tacoma Airport after going through an advanced imaging machine. She says that there were other passengers with curly or course hair who were not selected for additional screening and she believes she was singled out because she is black.
Adiele was on her way to Texas when she was stopped at the TSA security checkpoint to undergo a full-body scan. When that didn’t seem to be sufficient, she was asked to step to the side to have her hair searched. Adiele initially thought the TSA agent was going to give her a body pat-down but was surprised to hear that her thick, curly hair would need to be examined. She inquired about why that would be necessary and why others weren’t being subjected to the same measures, when, she says, the agent told her to comply or risk having the police called over. Adiele submitted to the hair search and continued on her way.
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Although the TSA’s website makes no specific mention of hair policies, it does say that any head coverings that raise concerns are subject to search. But Adiele told King 5 News in Seattle that she heard something more blunt at the airport.
“The supervisor shows up and she says, ‘It’s our policy that we examine anything that poofs from the body,'” said Adiele. “I’m looking around me at all these women with bigger hair, if you will, and I’m thinking ‘Why am I the only one being singled out here for poofy hair?'”
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On the King 5 News website, comments from someone claiming to be Adiele’s mother say that her family, including two other daughters, has endured “profiling” like this before.
“This incident was indeed racial profiling,” says the commenter. “It has happened to my family time and time again. We just won’t sit down and be quiet. It’s not our style as a family.”
A regional spokesperson with the TSA says that the agency takes any charges of racism seriously but is confident the security officers were doing their jobs. Adiele has filed a complaint with the TSA and is awaiting a response.
Frances Romero is a writer-reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @frances_romero. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.