Dear Mayor Paterson, I recently read a piece on CBC.ca in regards to your concerns over street harassment in your town of Leamington, Ontario (for those unaware, Leamington, ON is a town near Windsor - close to the Canada/US border). As I understand, your daughter reported that she was allegedly the object of street harassment while walking to meet you at a restaurant - and while this is atrocious, I was even more unsettled by your handling of the situation.
You stated in the CBC piece that she was the object of unwanted commentary about her body parts by "possible Jamaican migrant workers", and you took the matter to your police services board meeting to discuss "lewd Jamaican behaviour."
"Not to be bigoted, not to be racist, not to be anything, it is directly related to some of the Jamaican migrant workers that are here," you said.
"Maybe it's appropriate back in your home town, but here it's not," you added.
I'd like to alert you to a few matters.
As a young woman who is accosted with various forms of harassment on an almost daily basis, I empathize with your daughter. There have been times when I've walked down a sidewalk alone, have seen a group of men up ahead, and have chosen to cross the street to hopefully avoid catcalls, yells, and comments that reduce me to nothing more than a passing fancy. I've put earphones in as I've walked past men to give them a reason to see why I was ignoring their comments about my face, my legs, my ass. I've fought back against hands that lurch out of dark corners, grabbing me to do God-knows-what, planning on showing me how much power they can wield over me. If your daughter has felt any of these same fears and emotions, or has tried to protect herself the way I have, I understand her more than you ever will.
This may come as a surprise to you, but "lewdness" and sexual/street harassment are not distinguished by race/ethnicity/country of origin. I'm amazed that a man of your stature would venture to place the responsibility of such behaviours solely on the shoulders of Jamaicans, as if they invented it. While you comment that women have filed "hundreds" of complaints about the Jamaican migrant workers (though you only spoke to the OPP about your daughters'), how many complaints have been launched against men born and bred in Leamington? Or are you attempting to imply that sexual harassment didn't exist in Leamington until the arrival of these "lewd Jamaicans"? I wonder if you're attempting to ignite a necessary conversation about sexual harassment, or if you're simply looking for a crutch upon which to hoist your bigoted thoughts about migrant workers. Remember the examples I gave in the paragraph above of the harassment I've experienced? Many of those incidents have been forced upon me by men who looked just like you - and some even in your hometown. Some are younger and think that their screams letting me know that they "love some sexy brown sugar" are compliments. Some are older, and the confidence with which they grab my arm and lick their lips tell me they've gotten what they've wanted before. These men look like you, Mr. Mayor. They live in your town. And if your daughter is ever in a space where she isn't known as "the Mayor's daughter," these men that look like you will do the same. Please do not insult me, your daughter, and other women by making this a racial issue.
Speaking even further to your insults - assuming that unwanted sexual comments and harassment is "appropriate" anywhere is a disgusting paradigm. As a woman of Jamaican parentage, not only does it reek of elitist and privileged thought, but it also leads me to believe that if you witnessed me being sexually harassed on the street, you might just chalk it up to "Jamaicans being Jamaicans" and go on your merry way. Do not insult us - the women who don't have the privilege of looking like your daughter; the women who fight against sexual harassment here, there, and everywhere; the women behind groups I support like Red For Gender who work to educate, empower, and change mindsets in the Caribbean and the diaspora at large. Sexual/street harassment is not appropriate anywhere. Please remember that.
Now. Aside from the times I've been harassed by men that look like you, I've also been harassed by men who look like the Jamaican migrant workers you speak of. The underbelly of a beautiful Caribbean culture unfortunately reflects the often patriarchal and sexist memes that permeate its communities. I've fought them too. I've tried to ignore them too. I wonder - do you think that we accept this? Do you think that Caribbean men and women are not working to eliminate street harassment and replace it with a respect for bodily autonomy? Or do you think that we Caribbeans are a wild, animalistic, hyper-sexual people who can't control ourselves anyways? Regardless of your thoughts, I would urge you to read this piece on ending street harassment in Latin America and the Caribbean.
In closing, I reiterate that I understand how your daughter (and any other victim of street harassment) feels. Fruitful discussions on ending street harassment are crucial and necessary in Leamington, Toronto, or Kingston, Jamaica. I also wonder what the outcomes of your meeting with the police services board were. Do you have a good handling of navigating a multicultural community? As migrant workers have become an indelible part of Ontario's structure, what will you do to make this "arrangement" a more positive one going forward?
Patriarchy and power dynamics are responsible for much of sexual/street harassment, and these matters need to be honestly investigated. Hinging them on the arm of a select few do nothing to help advance the movement and make communities safer. Please remember: Jamaicans may have given the world Bob Marley and jerk chicken - but Jamaicans did not invent, create, or birth street harassment. Good luck with Leamington.
P.S. You'll notice I didn't mention or discuss the variety of implications in Ontario's migrant worker industry, and the inherent discrepancies in fair wages and safe labour - we'll save that for another discussion, shall we?