‘Don’t Wear Your Headscarf Next Time’

#ShitTSASays chronicles the U.S. Transportation Security Administration’s ludicrous mistreatment and profiling of Muslims while flying. Send your story to editorial@muslim-girl-2021-production.mystagingwebsite.com.

I flew out to Atlanta to attend a Model United Nations conference with 20 other classmates in late November. Yep, 20 of us 20-year-old college students at an airport sounds pretty chaotic — but we were on our best behavior.
One by one, we did the whole shebang; boarding passes in hand, shoes off and laptops in isolated bins. Then came the part I dread most when traveling: the metal detector and what follows the metal detector. No, not because I have anything to hide — but because TSA makes me feel like I have something to hide.
After walking through the detector, I always get pulled to the side and have my head patted down. Now this is annoying as hell for two reasons.

  1. It’s humiliating.
  2. This process always ruins my hijab bun — holla if you feel the struggle!

Nonetheless, because this process is always expected, I’ve become just a little numb to it. I guess that’s what happens when you literally grow up in a post-9/11 ultra-Islamophobic society. What I didn’t expect, however, was the following conversation with a TSA agent.
A female TSA agent asked me to step to the side and after doing so, she gave my hijab a long glance and straight-up said, “That’s a pretty headscarf but I wouldn’t recommend wearing it next time you fly.”
Any hijab-wearing Muslim woman in my position would have obviously seen this remark as a complete disrespect to our religious obligation. And that’s exactly what I felt. Standing in utter shock, I simply told her it was for religious reasons and she was in no place to tell me what I should wear.
She immediately responded by saying, “No, no, I completely respect your religion. But this
specific material interferes with the metal detector, silly!”
First of all, is my hijab intertwined with metal? No.
Second, this whole post could have been avoided had she been taught to structure her sentences properly and provide context when speaking, not just blurt out whatever she felt without thinking. Her sentence can easily be misinterpreted considering the increase of ignorance these days. Regardless, nothing about it sounded positive to begin with.
She was laughing it off and I couldn’t even break a fake smile because of how unsettled I felt after hearing her initial sentence. As a Muslim woman that wears hijab, airports already give me major anxiety — thanks Islamophobes — so it’s not cool to spew problematic statements in my face, even if your intentions weren’t to do so (debatable).
“You should probably specify what you’re talking about next time and be less insensitive. Thanks,” I replied. And I strutted to my gate.