Harnaam Kaur on being racially profiled at the airport

I was completely taken aback at how disrespectful and offensive she was being. Firstly, I let no one touch my crown – I’ve been wearing my turban since I was 15, it’s a part of me, why would I let anyone touch it like that?

Secondly, what was she insinuating? That I was hiding something dangerous in my turban? It was blatantly racist, so I refused.

“No, you can’t touch my turban,” I said. That’s when she called over another security guard – a much bigger, male security guard – and he told me to get out. “If you won’t let us search your turban, you’re not getting on this flight.”

On Sunday 13th September, I was returning form Mijas, Spain, after a week-long holiday with my manager Liz, when I was racially profiled by airport staff.

I’d just put my bag through the X-ray machine at security and walked through the detector when a security guard pulled me to the side. She said: “I need to search your turban”.

I tried to stay calm and explain why asking to search my turban was discriminatory and disrespectful – even offering to let them use the handheld detector to scan my turban – but they wouldn’t listen, talking over me and raising their voices. “Go on then, get out, get out,” the male security guard was shouting in my face, not even looking me in the eye. When I asked what exactly it was that they were looking for under my turban, they said ‘drugs’.

When I asked what exactly it was that they were looking for under my turban, they said ‘drugs’

Look, I get it. I’m a woman of colour. I have a beard. I wear a turban. I’m different and I stand out. People are going to look at me, they’re going to be racist, they’re going to discriminate. People are going to other me, bully me and sideline me. But you can only go through so much disrespect before you blow, and this time, I couldn’t let it go.

“I will get on this flight, but you’re not removing my turban,” I said. More security got called, threatening to arrest us, and by now a crowd of people were standing around watching this unfold. It’s such the norm now for people to see people like me being searched, do you know how embarrassing that is?

They were so adamant and the situation had descended into so much chaos that, eventually, I let the security guard touch my turban, but said “you ain’t taking it off, no way”. She was squeezing it, poking it, trying to look underneath it and waving her hands around in exacerbation. It was so uncomfortable. “I don’t know what you’re trying to find, that’s literally just my hair you’re feeling,” I said. In the end, security did use the handheld detector to scan my turban – something I’d been saying they could do all along – and unsurprisingly, they found absolutely nothing.

“There you go!” I shouted, absolutely livid at the whole disgusting situation. “No weed, no cocaine, no drugs, no bombs, are you f*cking happy?” As I walked off, reeling from anger at what had just happened, I heard the group of security guards sniggering.

It’s not the first time I’ve experienced abuse like this while travelling. In Vienna in 2018, I was extensively searched while going through security and when I asked why, the security guard openly said: “I’m searching for bombs and drugs.” Or when I was flying to Miami from London waiting to board the flight, and a security guard took me out of the queue to search me, despite the fact I’d already been through security. Of course, I was the only bearded turbaned person in the queue, and of course, I was the only person being searched. I had to request not to be patted down in front of everyone.

Their response is always the same – “it’s just protocol”. Then last year, waiting for the Eurostar in Paris to return to London, I noticed a group of security guards looking me up and down and laughing. One of them asked to see my passport, despite not asking anyone else. When I handed it to him, they all looked and burst out laughing. But when you’re a woman on your own, confronted with a group of five men over 6-foot who clearly have a problem with you, you have to pick your battles. That’s just the sad, shitty reality of it.

This happens to people like me every single day. We are sidelined, attacked, abused

As a person of colour who looks different, it shows you so clearly how deeply systemic racism is in our society. But it also makes me think of all the other people out there that must go through the same thing – women with hijabs, people who wear turbans, people of colour. This happens to people like me every single day. We are sidelined, attacked, abused in the street – because some people see ‘turban’, and they think ‘terrorist’.

As a bearded turbaned woman, I’m working hard to change the narrative, by going on TV and talking in magazines to spread love, not hate. That’s why I’m not staying silent; not letting the racists get away with it. That’s why I won’t stop going in, working hard, shouting about what’s right, and ultimately, fighting for change.

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