January 18, 2020

TSA issues apology to Native American woman who had braids pulled by agent
Tara Houska ‘humiliated’ by TSA agent who ‘snapped my braids like reins’ during screening at Minneapolis-St Paul airportThe federal Transportation Security Administration has apologized to a Native American woman who said an agent at Minneapolis-St Paul international airport “pulled her braids” and said “giddy up!” when she took a flight from there this week.“The agent said she needed to pat down my braids,” tweeted Tara Houska, an indigenous rights advocate and attorney. “She pulled them behind my shoulders, laughed and said ‘giddyup!’ as she snapped my braids like reins. My hair is part of my spirit. I am a Native woman. I am angry, humiliated. Your ‘fun’ hurt.”Houska, who is Ojibwe, added: “When I informed the middle-aged blonde woman who had casually used her authority to dehumanize and disrespect me, she said, ‘Well it was just in fun, I’m sorry. Your hair is lovely.’“That is NOT an apology and it is NOT OK.”According to the Washington Post, women of color have long experienced problems at TSA checkpoints, because natural, braided or twisted hair prompt “flags” on security devices, spurring “more invasive screenings”.Bring Me The News, a Minnesota website, appeared to have been first to report Houska’s experience.In a statement to the Guardian, the TSA said it had been “made aware of allegations made by a traveler about her screening experience at Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport [on] Monday morning.“TSA officials investigated the incident and on Tuesday afternoon, TSA’s federal security director for Minnesota, Cliff Van Leuven, spoke with the traveler. He apologized for actions and a comment that were insensitive and made by a TSA officer to the traveler during the screening experience.”Van Leuven also wrote to airport staff.“In the news last night and today,” he said, “you’ve likely seen – or heard - of a TSA officer at MSP who was insensitive in screening the long braided hair of a Native American passenger Monday morning. Did it actually happen? Yes. Exactly as described? Yes.“This morning, I reached out to the passenger via email. She called me back early this afternoon. I apologized for how she was treated during the screening of her braids – and we had a very pleasant conversation.“She reiterated that she doesn’t want the officer to get in trouble, but she is hoping we’ll take the chance to continue to educate our staff about the many Native American Tribes/Bands in our state and region to better understand their culture.”The airport apologized on Twitter.Houska could not immediately be reached for comment.
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