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Aida Diouf Mbengue uses Tiktok to dispel assumptions about her religion and her veil
Aida Diouf Mbengue uses Tiktok to dispel assumptions about her religion and her veil | Photo courtesy of Aida Diouf Mbengue

Meet the Afro-Italian influencer fighting stereotypes with Tiktok videos

My first video for Tiktok in 2019 was just a silly sketch, filmed by my sister. But it went viral, gaining 900,000 views in three days. I realized then I could use my talent on social media as a force for change. 

Aida Diouf Mbengue
Interview Subject
Aida Diouf Mbengue, 20, is a Senegalese-born social media influenced based in Bergamo, Italy. Follow her on Tiktok, Youtube and Instagram.
Background Information
Since her first video went viral in 2019, Aida Mbengue’s following has grown to more than 240,000 on TikTok, 63,000 on Instagram and 20,000 on YouTube. Through her social media content, she aims to dispel assumptions about her religion and fight against the racism rife in Italian society.

According to a January 2022 statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, though Italy has made strides and adopted “many legislative, judicial and institutional measures” since a 2019 study of racial discrimination in the country, racism remains a major issue there as in much of the rest of the world. The statement cites:

– Multiple incidents of hate speech and serious hate crimes against both Italians and non-nationals of various origins

– Vitriolic, hateful targeting online of women, Muslims, people with disabilities, Jews, LGBTI people and migrants

– People of African descent facing abuse, discriminatory behavior and even physical attacks

– Growing anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim prejudice.

BERGAMO, ITALY—I was born in Kaolack in Senegal, but I moved to Italy when I was 4 years old. For us “second-generation” children, growing up in Italy is difficult. Just like all Afro-Italian kids, others considered me an outsider because of my skin color.

At school, my teachers belittled me. When I told them of my dreams and ambitions, they said I wouldn’t succeed because I was Black. I also suffered more than others because of my religion—Islam—and wearing a veil. Growing up, I was made to feel completely alien and I had a hard time accepting myself for who I was.

Finding viral success with first Tiktok video

One of my secret dreams since I was 6 years old has been to become an actress, while wearing my beloved veil. As a teenager, I saw social media as an opportunity to start that journey.

But the opinions I kept hearing in Italian society made me lose confidence. I was scared of showing my face publicly on video-sharing sites because of my veil and my skin color. People even told me I would just make a fool of myself, that no one would be interested in following someone wearing a veil. 

Finally, though, I stood in front of a camera and everything changed. I felt a burst of confidence, like I could do anything I wanted. It felt so good.

My first video for Tiktok in 2019 was just a silly sketch, filmed by my sister. But it went viral, gaining 900,000 views in three days. I realized then I could use my talent on social media as a force for change. 

Showcasing diversity and self-expression, one video at a time

I decided that I wanted to show my followers the importance of having the courage to do what you want to do and be yourself, even if the society around you tells you not to. I wanted to make them understand that no one should have the power to limit our dreams or become an obstacle. The only obstacle is ourselves.

My videos are light-hearted and cheeky. In each one, I wear one of an array of brightly colored veils that I like to match to my outfit and accessories.

I’m trying to show that, particularly here in Italy, being Afro-Italian means asserting yourself. It means having the courage to express yourself and share your thoughts with others. And it means fighting discrimination and prejudice. 

Most Italians only see the veil as a symbol of submission. I want to show that there are many different forms of freedom, and mine is my veil. I am free to cover myself, just as any other girl is free to show her body. 

Fighting stereotypes about Islam

More than that, I try to break down all the clichés of my religion in my videos. People tend to make assumptions about the Muslim faith without stopping to learn about it from the people who actually practice it. 

I do get some negative comments on my videos, but I know they are from people with outdated mentalities.

Mostly, I get really positive reactions. This makes me feel wonderful, because I know I am changing the minds of future parents who will, in turn, transmit these values to their children. 

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Rebecca Ann Hughes is an Edinburgh-born, Cambridge-educated and Venice-based journalist. She has written for Forbes, the Independent and Apollo Magazine about Italy's art, culture and politics.