LDN to LA with Tahnaiya Russell: Adventures of an Afropean Artist Abroad (Part 2)
TE: How is life as a Brit in the USA? In my journeys there, I’ve found race to be such a salient issue whereas class seems to predominate in the UK (and that’s not to belittle issues here surrounding race). What opportunities and issues have arisen for you as a cutting edge designer living a twenty-first century transnational existence?
TR: Racial segregation was the first thing I noticed out here and it really saddened me. It was hard because I’m from London, probably the most diverse city in the world. People out here think their cities are so racially/ethnically diverse but all these groups have their own neighbourhoods and they do not mix like how we do in London. The fact that cities like San Diego and Los Angeles are so car-centric doesn’t help either. In London we all have to sit together on the train and get used to one another.
Life as a black British woman in Southern California has been fine overall. People are curious, it’s not every day they meet a black person with an English accent. Many will get excited and ask questions, I’m like a novelty to them. I started off living in San Diego, which is known as a small conservative beach town with lots of military bases. There’s hardly any design jobs there, so it was hard taking on boring office jobs whilst building up my clientele on the side. I found that regardless of my ethnic name, people thought I was white over the phone and when they would meet me in person their face would say it all; their jaw would drop slightly and they would have a look of confusion whilst trying to smile at the same time. There were times where I just wanted to say, “Yes I’m black!” When I left Diego for LA things were a lot better. There’s a lot more design jobs out here so I started to work in my field full time. No one really assumed I was white over the phone so I was no longer stressed. Los Angeles is a lot bigger, less conservative and the black population is bigger than in Diego. There’s all sorts of work out here so living in LA has been a lot better for me and my career.