A Southern California desert high school was in the spotlight this week after a civil rights group called the campus mascot — the Arab — demeaning and stereotyping.
Some boosters at Coachella Valley High School in Thermal, about 30 miles southeast of Palm Springs, say the mascot is intended to honor Middle Eastern culture as a reference to the area’s date palm-growing heritage. For generations, the Coachella Valley embraced Middle Eastern themes — with place names such as Oasis and Mecca — to promote its primary agricultural product.
That historical contest notwithstanding, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said in a Nov. 1 letter to the Coachella Valley Unified School District that “in the 21st Century, such justifications for these actions are no longer tolerable.”
An online petition started by the ADC demands that the school’s mascot “be eliminated, along with the imagery and terminology associated with it.”
An assistant to the district Superintendent Darryl S. Adams said the school board will consider the matter at a Nov. 21 meeting. Adams spoke with committee members Wednesday and the parties are “working to resolve it,” the assistant said.
The school’s mascot is depicted as a large-nosed, heavily bearded man with a traditional Arab head covering, or kaffiyeh.
At sports games, a student dressed in a giant foam “Arab” mascot head is entertained by a belly-dancing cheerleader. A sign on the campus reads “CVHS Arab Territory.”
“The ‘Arab’ mascot image is a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping which should be eliminated. By allowing continued use of the term and imagery, you are commending and enforcing the negative stereotypes of an entire ethnic group, millions of whom are citizens of this nation,” wrote committee Director of Legal and Policy Affairs Abed Ayoub in his letter to the school district.
Adams said he believes a compromise with ADC can be reached by altering the mascot and changing features that insult Arab-Americans, according to CNN.
“It’s not so much the name but the depiction of the mascot,” Adams said, CNN reported. “I’m from Memphis, Tenn., so I understand how people can look at different symbols and caricatures. I look at it as an educational opportunity for our students and staff to discuss it.
“Things evolve over time, and it’s the 21st Century and it’s 2013, and this group feels we need to look at it and we will,” Adams said.