Saskatchewan

Regina teacher says social post suggesting he was stealing from his own car highlights racial bias

Christian Mbanza said he's usually the type of person to "let it slide" if he endures racism, but the Regina teacher said he couldn't let it go this time when someone recorded him trying to get something out of his own car and posted the video to a neighbourhood Facebook group warning people to lock their doors.

Somebody recorded Christian Mbanza at his own car, assumed he was stealing and posted video to Facebook group

Christian Mbanza says racism is alive and well in Regina, and it will take a community effort to end it. (Bonnie Allen/CBC News)

Christian Mbanza has experienced racism before but says he's laid back and usually tends to let it slide.  

This time, the 27-year-old grade school teacher from Regina, who is black, couldn't stay silent. 

On Monday night, his phone was blowing up with messages from friends warning him about a social media post. It was a video of him, and the caption said "Just happened on Keller ave watched the whole thing happen lock your doors!!" 

It was posted to the Greens on Gardiner Facebook group, an online group for members of the Regina neighbourhood where Mbanza lives with his mom. 

"I'm laid back. I don't really like to say too much," said Mbanza, who teaches Grade 7 at École St. Mary Elementary School and coaches youth football in the city. 

 "But with everything going on, I felt like this was absolutely the right time to speak up."

On Monday, he had headed out for a bike ride but needed to grab a few things from his car. He uses an app to unlock it, which wasn't working correctly, and so he was waiting by the car for it to unlock before eventually going for his keys.

Mbanza said he wasn't doing anything suspicious or wrong. 

"If I was somebody with a lighter skin complexion, the results would have been different," he speculated. "I don't think they would have automatically assumed that I was stealing."

This video was posted in the private Greens on Gardiner Facebook group with the caption: 'Just happened on Keller ave watched the whole thing happen lock your doors !!' 0:42

The original post has been deleted, but screenshots of it have been shared hundreds of times. Mbanza says he wants the situation to spark a conversation about racial bias and systemic racism in the community. 

"You shouldn't react to your racial biases." 

This isn't the first time he's experienced something like this, he said. Mbanza said people have called the police on him several times, sometimes when he was just cycling through city neighbourhoods.

Not just a U.S. problem

Mbanza reflected on what might have happened if he lived in the U.S., where rallies and protests erupted in the wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd.

The Minneapolis black man died after he was detained by police officers, one of whom pressed his knee against Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes.

Grace Mbanza also posted to social media, saying people must speak out because racism is prevalent in Canada, where it often happens behind closed doors, she said. (Submitted by Grace Mbanza)

"I could have easily ended up dead or something bad could have happened to me," said Mbanza. "I'm lucky that it just ended up on Facebook."

Mbanza's 21-year-old sister, Grace, said Canada is not immune to the type of racial discrimination highlighted by the Floyd case.

"Even though we're not directly in the middle of the Black Lives Matter movement, it's still very much happening around us," she said. 

"More than ever, we need people to support us … and stand in solidarity." 

Demonstrators hold up their hands during a rally in Sacramento, Calif., Tuesday, protesting the death of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man who died May 25 after being restrained by Minneapolis police. (Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

'Educate yourself and talk to your neighbours'

Grace Mbanza said the Facebook video was shocking — not only because of the apparent racial bias, but because of how the person who posted responded to what they assumed was a crime. 

"If something was really going on in the neighborhood like that, you wouldn't want to involve yourself and possibly stop it? Rather than assuming and putting it on social media?" 

She said many people still don't understand that black people endure prejudice, discrimination and racial bias daily — and have for generations. 

"As a person of colour, it's like you're constantly striving to be, like, the best version of yourself just so people around you can be put at ease," she said.

"We do that just so we don't have to be a victim of our own race or our own skin colour."

Grace is hopeful her brother's experience will change how community members react to situations and their awareness of racism.

Some people arrived early to prepare for a Black Lives Matter rally at the Saskatchewan legislature on Tuesday. (Matt Howard/CBC)

Her brother has seen messages from people who say they "had no idea" that this type of thing happened in Regina. 

"I'd say educate yourself and talk to your neighbours, listen to their story," he said.

People need to call out racism when they witness it, he said. "This isn't just an isolated incident. It happens to people of colour all the time." 

Standing in solidarity 

Hundreds of people have reached out to Mbanza since screenshots of the post went viral.

Ross Bearman, who lives in the area and was part of the Facebook group, became aware of the post and asked the moderator to take it down on Monday night. However, his own post got taken down. He reposted it, and it was removed again.

He ended up posting it publicly on his own page.

CBC contacted the moderator of the Facebook group for comment but did not receive a reply.

The group is now private, but Bearman shared a screenshot of a reply he said was posted by the moderator.

"The community is made up of a multitude of diverse cultures, it sickens me to see people singled out as 'not belonging in this neighborhood due to their appearance,'" the post said.

"The person that posted the video is no longer in this group. Please get to know your neighbours, make each other feel welcome." 

Hundreds of people participate in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in front of Saskatchewan's Legislative Building in Regina Tuesday. People in cities around the world have been inspired to organize their own protests against racism in the wake of Floyd's death. (Mark Taylor/The Canadian Press)

More moderation urged for local Facebook groups

However, Bearman said the incident speaks not only to racism that exists within the community but also the underlying problems of community groups that often "start with the intention of bringing people closer together." 

"There is a tremendous amount of negativity, whining and racial biases that happen on a daily basis, and the trickle effect of that shouldn't be taken lightly," he said.

Bearman says the people who start neighbourhood Facebook groups don't anticipate they'll have to deal with racist or derogatory posts. 

However, he wants guidelines put in place and enforced by everyone in the group. He's offered to help moderate moving forward to prevent something like this from happening again. 

Looking at the bigger picture, he's asking people to check their own biases and to act when they see something wrong. 

That's also Mbanza's advice.

"Check your racial bias, that's the first thing, and No. 2, when things like this [do] happen, it's important that a community rallies behind and calls that out."

About the Author

Kendall Latimer

Journalist

Kendall Latimer has shared compelling stories, photos, audio and video with CBC Saskatchewan since 2016. She loves a good yarn and is always open to chat: kendall.latimer@cbc.ca.

now