09. ‘Whiteness’, Migration and Identity

This is a conversation with Matt Dagher-Margosian, a Taiwan-based Lebanese-Armenian American who founded Asia Art Tours, an art and activism-oriented organisation, and is also the host of the highly recommended The Arts of Travel podcast. Matt first had me on his podcast in November of 2019 to talk about the then-ongoing uprising in Lebanon. Since then, we’ve become good friends and have tried together to find answers to some of the difficult questions around identity and the left (and its failures).

In this first of a two-parts conversation, we spoke about the limitations of the ‘whiteness’ category in an American context and in particular with regards to his own background as a Lebanese-Armenian American. Given that Matt is based in Taiwan, speaks Mandarin Chinese and regularly talks to interesting guests from around Asia and beyond on his podcast, we also spoke about Taiwan, Hong Kong and their struggles for recognition in the shadow of China’s massive influence on the world stage. We also spoke about how Taiwan has dealt with the Covid-19 pandemic despite being excluded, at China’s request, from the World Health Organisation.

You can follow the podcast on Twitter @FireTheseTimes.

You can also support it on Patreon @firethesetimes or BuyMeACoffee.com @joeyayoub.

Featured photo was taken by Mariam Grigoryan on Unsplash, modified by myself. Music by Tarabeat. Logo design by Carl Farra.

List of resources suggested by Matt:

  • Anything by Lausan.
  • There are several brilliant contributors to Lausan. I really enjoy Wilfred Chan. His article for the Nation on the Gas Lighting of Taiwan can be found here.
  • Anything by New Bloom. This is a great article on the politicization of Science as it relates to denying Taiwan entry to the WHO.
  • Brian Hioe, Wen Liu of Taiwan are two of the best scholars I find for looking into concepts of the state and identity as they relate to Taiwan.  Brian is at his best when he’s willing to explore the abstract and the concrete of politics. This interview is a good example of that.
  • Darren Byler is one of the few Xinjiang Activists I would recommend for progressives. He shows great nuance in critiquing Xinjiang while not sliding into American Exceptionalism or the logic of national security. Preview of a long interview we did w. Darren is here and one of my favorite articles by Darren can be found here:
  • The Art Activists Yi Xiaocuo and Badiucao would also be two good faith critics on China’s conduct towards Xinjiang and Hong Kong I would recommend. We have interviews with both. Our interview with Yi Xiaocuo can be found here and our interview with Badiucao can be found here.
  • The twitter profile UWU chronicles the art of Hong Kong’s protest- highly recommend following them.
  • The book “Forget Chineseness” is excellent for how the China-centric ethno-nationalism falls apart as it traverses the “Chinese” diaspora.
  • Likewise, Rey Chow’s work is brilliant for understanding the complexity of Hong Kong identity.
  • Rob Nixon’s book on Slow Violence can be found here
  • For Thailand: Jasmine Chia of the Thai Enquirer is a good place to start. After that it’s mostly a matter of finding what interests you.
  • Claudio Sopranzetti would be another scholar I’d recommend
  • Vicky Osterweil we’ve also interviewed, but this article has influenced many people to give up on liberal statecraft as a possible solution, for a more revolutionary path.
  • For Armenia and the Lebanese Diaspora… there isn’t a lot! I would say this documentary “My Grandma’s Tattoos”  about the ‘silence’ or ‘unfriendliness’ of older Armenians and how it connects to the history of Genocide is excellent.
  • And Jon Schwarz, who we also interviewed, of the Intercept provides valuable journalism into how America specifically has betrayed the Armenian Diaspora.
  • For our conversation about the Hammer vs. the Scalpel, it’s heavily influenced by the Anarchist scholar John Holloway. I would recommend his book Crack Capitalism or our interview with him here as a preview.
  • For tourism, this is one of the most important books I read. Completely changed how I felt about the travel industry. It looks at travel and conservation from a Marxist perspective – https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235737430_Nature_unbound_Conservation_capitalism_and_the_future_of_protected_areas
  • Lastly, you can’t go wrong with reading Black Reconstruction by WEB DuBois to understand some of the themes we discussed.

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