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American Airlines telling a black woman to cover up is just another example of everyday racism

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Christobel Hastings
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American Airlines has sparked a racism row after a black woman was asked to cover up her outfit on a flight home from holiday. And the incident reinforces the double standard black women endure on a daily basis

Picture the scene. You’re returning home from seven days in the sun. You’ve got your straw hat on, your tan game is strong, and the holiday vibe is still in full flow. But when you turn up to board your flight home, you’re met with hostility from the airline crew. The reason? Your playsuit.

If the scenario sounds faintly ridiculous, you’d be right. But that’s exactly what happened to Dr. Tisha Rowe, a 37-year-old physician who was travelling home from a family holiday in Jamaica.

The incident occurred when Dr. Rowe attempted to board a Miami-bound flight from Kingston with her eight-year-old son, upon which American Airlines made the decision to temporarily remove her from the plane because they deemed her outfit “inappropriate”. 

According to Dr. Rowe, a flight attendant asked her to step off the plane and enquired as to whether she had a jacket to cover herself with before boarding. Even though she defended her outfit choice, Dr. Rowe was reportedly warned that she would be unable to fly unless she altered her appearance, forcing her to wrap herself with a blanket before returning to her seat.

As you can see from the photos of Dr. Rowe’s outfit, which she shared on Twitter, there is literally nothing inappropriate about her colourful, strapless playsuit. Literally the only thought we had was “where can we find one similar” because that palm print is everything.

In a tweet describing the incident, Dr. Rowe, who is African-American, laid bare the insidious racial bias that she believed to be behind the insistence that black women cover their bodies.

“We are policed for being black,” she explained. “Our bodies are over sexualised 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.”

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In an interview with KHOU, Dr. Rowe said that she was left feeling completely humiliated, and called out the airline for refusing to adopt the same policy with a white woman who was similarly dressed. It’s worth noting that Dr. Rowe’s outfit didn’t violate any of the airline’s attire policy, which only bans bare feet and offensive clothing.

“I am, like, head down the whole time,” Rowe said. “I don’t want to see anybody’s face. I’m embarrassed. I’m humiliated. I did not look up at even a single passenger.”

“If I, being Leticia Rowe, was a white woman in that same body suit, if they thought it’s inappropriate, do I think they would have removed that white woman from the plane?” she said. “Absolutely not.”

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Somewhat predictably, American Airlines only issued an apology when Dr. Rowe’s complaint had gone viral on social media.

“We were concerned about Dr. Rowe’s comments, and reached out to her and our team at the Kingston airport to gather more information about what occurred,” an official statement read.

“We apologise to Dr. Rowe and her son for their experience, and have fully refunded their travel,” the statement continued. “We are proud to serve customers of all backgrounds and are committed to providing a positive, safe travel experience for everyone who flies with us.”

According to CNN, the airline is planning to hire a chief inclusion and diversity officer, which is just as well, because it’s clear that there is an urgent need to educate staff on the double standard at play when it comes to black women’s bodies. There is no place for discrimination in 2019, and passengers of colour cannot be assured of a positive, safe travel experience when their race is called into question.

Image: Getty

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Christobel Hastings

Christobel Hastings is a London-based journalist covering pop culture, feminism, LGBTQ and lore.

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