Originally intended as a performance piece, #flyingwhileback is a heart-wrenching, sometimes whimsical, recalling of the process of boarding an airplane in a Black body. Bordering the genre of speculative fiction, this poem illustrates one of the many ways the Black body is seen as violent and threatening by simply existing. The poem is intended to recount many of my own experiences as well as challenge the authority of the Transportation Security Administration and the ways they engage with Black people.


I am never more reminded of my Blackness
than when I am at an airport
walking through TSA
The Transportation Security Administration
Whose job it is to keep the planes from terrorism To keep the people
The first time my hair
was detained by TSA
They said it was “just a precaution”
that it was “just to make sure”
Said if this Black girl hair
wasn't doing anything wrong,
it didn't have anything to worry about
The second time my hair
was detained by TSA
A blonde with more flakes on her shoulders
than a box of cereal
asked why my curls were so moist and conditioned
Why they foamed at the mouth
She said my hair looked hungry for the blood
it deserves
Rebellious the way it defies gravity
while coiled into a fist
The third time my hair
was detained by TSA
He poked and prodded my scalp
like I was up for purchase
He called my afro a magic trick
An illusion
How it shrinks and then blows up
He feared my hair might blow up
Might retaliate
Might pounce like an Oakland panther
armed and Black
The fourth time my hair
was detained by TSA
I realized it had happened enough times
for me to write this poem
The fifth time
My hair asked to speak to a supervisor
The supervisor told my hair
it was overreacting
Shouldn't speak so loudly
Should have relaxed
Should have straightened itself out
before it got here
And then maybe
It wouldn't end up in these types of situations
The sixth, seventh, and eighth times
my hair was detained by TSA
It had flashbacks to red ketchup
poured over black naps
at whites-only counters
And Don Imus's hate for
“Nappy Headed Hoes”
And how pretty those four little girls'
hair must've been
for church that day
My hair thought about what it means
To commit an act of terror
Considered the irony
of terrorizers
accusing the terrorized
of terrorism
How they would mistake my hair
for a weapon
when it is, indeed, a target
The only piece of evidence
in a murder case that will not go to trial
And yet here I am
Standing at TSA
Me and my Black girl hair
Convincing a US government institution
that I am not as violent
as they are
The next time my hair
is detained by TSA
They will treat my hair like a threat, a violence
Not a victim
Not a refugee
Not an endangered thing just
looking for someplace to go