“I always feel I have to be doing something” – Out and about in Hamburg with Aminata Belli
She’s Mercedes accompanied the presenter and fashion editor Aminata Belli for a day in in her hometown Hamburg.
Aminata Belli actually studied fashion editing. But the multitalented woman from Hamburg soon got bored spending the whole day at her desk. So it was a good she still had her YouTube channel. Today Aminata works as a full-time presenter in front of the camera for big brands. Whether she is at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Berlin as a roving reporter or interviewing stars in unusual locations for a music company: you will rarely ever find the 26-year-old influencer speechless. And that’s a good thing, seeing as the Schleswig-Holstein-born journalist is about more than just sharing lovely images on Instagram: she confidently stands up to everyday racism. We went on a tour of Hamburg with Aminata, spoke about her background, and asked why it’s important for everyone, not just those in the public eye, to stand up for what they believe in.
When did you realise you wanted to stand in front of the camera?
I always felt at home in front of the camera. Even before my degree I started my own YouTube channel, and more out of boredom than anything else. Somehow this was in keeping with the spirit of the times, and I regularly watched YouTube videos. Nevertheless, I was really camera-shy at first. It’s funny to see that today (she laughs). It was through my YouTube channel that I came by my first presenting job for NDR. All in all nothing was really planned, it just turned out the way it did. Now I’m lucky enough to stand in front of the camera for a living.
You come from a fairground family. Did that shape you?
Coming from a fairground family shaped me in that I’ve become very adaptable. We travelled a lot, and I often had to adjust to new situations. So I find it easy to do so now, too. I’m very open-minded and not anxious in general, even if I may behave like a scaredy-cat from time to time (laughs). I can also assert myself well – that made me a strong woman.
What else do you think makes a strong woman?
A strong woman doesn’t allow herself to be affected by who she is or where she comes from. She fights for herself and her interests. In essence, a strong woman does what she wants.
You tackle everyday racism head-on. To what extent to you feel a sense of responsibility to do so as a public figure – in particular for women and girls of colour? How do you try to raise awareness of prejudices in peoples’ minds?
It’s very important to me to call out everyday racism and also racism in general. Many people who aren’t confronted with it that often don’t know how to deal with it. That’s why I try to create a level on which it can be openly discussed. A girl, also Afro-German, approached me at a party recently. She hugged me and said she finds what I do great. That I campaign on a daily basis and represent black girls and women. She said this is really important. At last she feels she is visible.
People of all genders write to me to say how grateful they are that I speak up for them and voice their concerns. It is important to take a stand on issues that matter to you – whether you have a public profile or not. But people in the public eye are more likely to be heard. And we should use this opportunity.
“It is important to take a stand on issues that matter to you – whether you have a public profile or not.”
You share lots of personal insights on social media. Where do you stand in general on the issue of privacy?
On YouTube people can follow my personal journey very closely. Lots of followers have been with me since day one and have experienced my story with me. That’s exciting. But I’ve now deleted some content because I feel it’s too private. I wouldn’t go about things the same way today. I personally also feel that I value privacy. I’m very selective about what content I show and, above all, how I show it. There are issues I don’t like talking about, so I don’t. I’m aware that as a public figure I’m more vulnerable than others. You’re criticised in a different way and challenged the minute you have an opinion and take a stand. Many things also appear more spontaneous than is actually the case. And some happen with a time delay.
How does your family feel about your work? Does it help that they don’t come from the same line of business, or does that sometimes make it a bit harder?
That’s really important to me. I do know that I’m super-happy and can be grateful for everything I do. But at home, I’m even more aware of that. Nothing is taken for granted there. Tradition really does mean a lot to us, and apart from me, no-one else in the family does anything else. So the world of media and fashion is obviously an exciting alternative. My family is proud of me and likes what I do. My mother and my grandmother are also quite knowledgeable about Instagram. They know all the influencers, and they know about my job (she laughs). If I had decided to become a butcher they might have questioned that. Mind you: if it was something I really wanted to do, that would have been ok with them too.
What do you do when you have a day off? How do you unwind from work?
I often have difficulty differentiating between what’s private and not private. I don’t really know what a day to myself actually is. Maybe when I put my phone down. Quite sad really. I always feel I have to be doing something, even if it’s just the laundry. There’s always something to be done. If there’s ever a time when I’m really not doing anything at all or I’m not on my phone, then I’m probably lying in bed. Otherwise, I like to go out to eat with friends in my spare time. But there, too, the boundaries are blurred, as lots of them are in the same line of work. To a certain extent what I do is my life, not just a profession. That’s absolutely fine, it’s just hard to say what is actually leisure time. Unfortunately, I’m also completely addicted to my phone and can’t put it down (laughs).
Can you imagine doing a classic nine-to-five office job?
Up until last year I did do a job like that, so in principle I can imagine it. But I’m actually put off by the whole idea. When I was working in fashion editing, it was as though I sat in front of the computer thinking: wow, I’m a young person with loads of energy and ideas, and now here I am sitting at a desk all day long. Somehow that’s not natural – it goes against my nature not to do what I want. Freedom is the most important thing to me. When freedom is restricted, like, when your boss says: “You’ve used up your annual leave, you can’t go”, I find that really difficult. And I think that the longer I’d work on a freelance basis the harder I’d find that.
You have interviewed lots of stars and VIPs on camera. Which encounter did you find particularly exciting?
The most significant, the most enjoyable and most formative interview was definitely that with Joy Denalane. The conversation had actually been scheduled to last twenty minutes, but it ended up lasting nearly forty-five. I’d always been a big fan of her. She is absolutely fantastic, very inspiring and important to me personally. She’s all about representation. Mel B and Joy Denalane were all who mattered during my youth as far as I was concerned – they were the heroines of my childhood and youth. Interviewing Joy made me very happy, and I really got a lot out of the conversation.
“Freedom is the most important thing to me.”
Is openness an essential characteristic in your line of work?
I often go out as a roving reporter and have to approach people I don’t know. Lots of customers, editors, and the whole team are delighted that I just get on with it. I always think: it’s my job! It’s what I’d expect from anyone working in this field. Whenever I do an interview or report, I commit to dauntlessly approaching every person involved. As far as I’m concerned, that should go without saying.
As your home city, what makes Hamburg special?
My family is nearby, and this is where I grew up. I really think that’s it. I don’t relate much to individual locations themselves. I’m away a lot and can actually feel at home anywhere very quickly. That probably comes from the fairground life. Be it Hamburg, Berlin or Cologne: every city has something different to offer. In Hamburg it’s the feeling of home, but that’s all.
Is there anyone in particular you’d love to interview?
At the moment, definitely Yara Shahidi! She’s a great young American actress who’s very inspiring and just brilliant. I think she’ll be the President of the United States one day. I can’t wait for that to happen. I’d really love to meet her.
And are there any specific goals and plans for your immediate future?
I address things immediately whenever I don’t have a good feeling. Even if I’m sometimes seen as oversensitive, overemotional or “just” an angry black woman. As of now I’m not going to put up with being discriminated against or treated badly. In the past I often said nothing because I didn’t dare to do so or didn’t know how I was supposed to respond, but I don’t put up with that any longer. No matter what the person’s position or gender is. I say what I think and I take responsibility for it. I stand up for myself and I’m not afraid to do so.