© Annie Pratt

DEAR NOAH

1st May 2021

Words by Alix Landais. Photography by Dom Aguiar & Mustafa Omar.

In her letter, Alix Landais is offering her deep dive into what her French and Malian heritage means to her and how connected to French history her journey can be. Currently living in London, Alix is French and has lived in DRC and Sierra Leone for several years. Consequently, her letter is also a unique perspective on being a citizen in the world and dual heritages / lenses.

London, Autumn 2020

Dear Noah,

This year has been important.

Perhaps will your generation be taught at school about the series of events that occurred in 2020, and prompted many to rally and find the energy, and courage, to yet again protest and say no, to the perpetuation of racial inequalities manifesting across today’s societies.

For me too, it has been the start of a journey. A journey of looking at present structural inequalities through the lens of history and revisiting my own heritage along the way.

As a French woman with Malian heritage, I had only ever contemplated the notion of mixed-ethnicity, or mixed-race, as an opportunity to act as a bridge between cultures, and individuals.

Never had I reflected on the root cause of my ethnicity: France’s colonial past.

My grandmother was born in Gao, Northern Mali – at the time the country was a colony known as French Sudan. She never met her father, a French soldier who left Mali before she was born and never returned, despite his traditional marriage with her Malian mother.  

From a young age, my grandmother was taken from Gao to Bamako, to receive education from the French administration which ambitioned to raise mixed-raced children as future advocates participating to consolidate and maintain France’s local influence over time.

As I was revisiting our family’s story, it struck me that my white French father, grand-father, and great grand father had all in some ways plaid a role in perpetuating France’s influence in colonial and post-colonial West Africa; and that my mixed-raced grand-mother, mother, siblings, and I had primarily had exposure to institutions and circles promoting this system.

This realisation made me wonder about my own mindset and career pathway, which also contributes to sustain Western countries’ footprint on the African continent under the motive of supporting its economic development.

It made it clearer to me why despite the attention given to my black-ethnicity as I grew up in France, I was perceived as white in the African countries I had lived in, and by the black British colleagues whom I endeavour to represent as part of my work to promote diversity and inclusion at the workplace.

It made me want to talk about race, to understand my own family’s relationship with race, as well as that of my friends, and work colleagues. It made me want to start unpacking the unsaid and initiate these important conversations which are foundational to anti-racism and improved racial justice.

None of these conversations are easy, prompting victims of racism to share their lived experience, triggering discomfort for those who did not have prior exposure to these perspectives, and at times, creating tensions around the very notion of identity.

Yet these are essential conversations, as a first step towards action and lasting change.

So here is what I want to leave you with, dear Noah: A message of hope for our generation and what we can achieve. And a reminder that it is never too late to start your own journey towards exploring identity, fostering dialogue and inclusion, and celebrating diversity.

Alix Landais is a French national with Malian ethnicity, currently living in London. Through her work for the UK Development Finance Institution and prior professional experiences at the intersection of finance, economic development, and entrepreneurship, Alix has sought to reconnect with the African continent as part of her own quest to identity. Alix used to live in the DRC and Sierra Leone, where she regularly returns.

Annie Spratt is a hobbyist photographer from England.

IG @anniespratt