OPINION: Why does American Airlines have enough time to police Black women’s bodies?
With problematic passengers a plenty, American Airlines could have just left traveling doctor Tisha Rowe and her son alone.
I don’t envy the jobs of flight attendants.
Who wants to deal with indignant overhead bin hogs, goofs who refuse to check their supersized steamer trunks, false flag emotional support service animals and, in a worst-case scenario, violent and aggressive passengers who put everyone’s lives at risk?
Spoiler alert: Not. Me.
However, there seems to be a handful of these folks who have fewer tasks to manage than their robust job descriptions suggest. Somehow, some way, American Airlines flight attendants put down the safety instructions and found enough time to humiliate a Black traveler for no other reason than a toxic (in-flight) cocktail of envy mixed with anti-Blackness.
Though a half-assed corporate apology was issued this week, it appears the airline was first called out on June 30 when Houston doctor, Tisha Rowe tweeted about being told to “cover up” or get off her flight.
Rowe was wearing a colorful romper that just so happened to emphasize a banging bawdy en route to Miami after a family hangout in Jamaica. The one-piece attracted the attention of a business-deficient attendant who, in front of Rowe’s 8-year-old son, had the medical professional and founder of a telehealth company, perform some Game of Thrones-level walk of shame off the plane, only permitting her to re-board with the addition of a sackcloth of sorts.
“My shorts covered EVERYTHING but apparently was too distracting to enter the plane,” Rowe tweeted. “When defending my outfit I was threatened with not getting back on the flight unless I walked down the aisle wrapped in a blanket.”
Both Rowe and her child were mortified with her son in actual tears, according to her recollections.
“I have a very curvaceous body, and I put my body in bold colors, so you’re going to see it. But it’s not vulgar. It’s not inappropriate. It’s not bad, you know? If you put someone who’s a size 2 in the exact same outfit next to me, no one would be bothered.”
Here is what i was wearing when @AmericanAir asked me to deplane for a talk. At which point I was asked to “cover up”. When defending my outfit I was threatened with not getting back on the flight unless I walked down the aisle wrapped in a blanket. #notsofriendlyskies pic.twitter.com/AYQNNriLcq
— Tisha Rowe MD, MBA (@tisharowemd) July 1, 2019
Also, no one would be “bothered” had she been white, and Rowe pointed that out as well.
“As a physician i know the negative impact of #racism on health and i am speaking up because i hope no one else has endure what i did because they don’t fit the mold,” she tweeted. “We are policed for being black. Our bodies are over sexualized as women and we must ADJUST to make everyone around us comfortable. I’ve seen white women with much shorter shorts board a plane without a blink of an eye.”
It’s worth noting that a few White women have also been jammed up by the self-appointed flight fashion police. Maggie McGuffin and Kyla Ebbert were gathered by Jet Blue and Southwest, respectively for outfits that were described as too form-fitting and distracting.
However, Black women, in particular, have faced this kind of surveillance for centuries since the days of Sarah Baartman (The Hottentot Venus) paraded around Europe as a circus freak in the 1800s because of her curvaceous form all the way up to Serena Williams ogled and shunned for her stunning, melanated and muscled form currently seen in all its glory on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar.
Even the hair that grows God-given from our heads is subject to penalty, to the point that city and state legislation is required to protect our rights to “wear” our hair in it’s natural state.
How can it be that we are still facing anti-Black beauty sentiment from the 1700s when Tignon Law actually once made it illegal for Black women to display their gorgeous, bouffant curls and kinks because it was considered too threatening?
In the year of our Lord (and Lizzo) 2019, when Disney is turning actress/singer Halle Bailey into mermaid Ariel, presidential contender Kamala Harris is schooling disowned “Uncle” Joe Biden at the Democratic debates and Ava DuVernay has successfully secured the excommunication of former Central Park 5 prosecutor and unrepentant demon Linda Fairstein, I refuse to believe that we will stand by complacently and allow Black women to be treated like characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” on somebody’s dusty airline.
Much has been made of the fact that Rowe is a doctor and entrepreneur, but I don’t care if she’s a retired back-up dancer for 2 Live Crew, a NASA scientist or the inventor of the question mark.
No Black woman deserves this treatment.
Our bodies and our hair are nobody’s problem to solve through concealment or capitulation to mainstream (read: White) standards.
It’s well past time to re-examine and excise all of these arbitrary policies that allow the bias baked into America to impact and impede Black women today. An apology and a paltry airfare refund does not begin to cover what Rowe suffered.
Don’t make us pool our collective monies and launch SheaAir because it’s totally possible. Remember that we are in a world where our former FLOTUS Michelle “Got all the Glow” Obama showed y’all how to move books like weight and Rihanna, the world’s richest female musician, ran Victoria’s Secret and several weak, “all foundations are peach” cosmetics companies out of the game.
We can replace and erase you, trust.
Now, take that and shove that ever so kindly into your overhead bin.
Kyra Kyles is a nationally known multi-platform media executive, author, and speaker on media diversity. In addition to her 20-plus years as a journalist, including a tenure as Editor-in-Chief and Senior Vice President of Digital at EBONY and a multimedia correspondent/columnist for the Tribune Company, Kyra is the Chicago-based co-founder of content development collective, Myth Lab Entertainment and a contributor to outlets including TheGrio, Bustle and Shine Text. Follow and interact with her via @thekylesfiles on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.