It’s kind of amazing that it took this long, but as of last week, the beloved Coachella Valley High School mascot was no more. No, he wasn’t a Native American stereotype, he was, according to the Los Angeles Times, the campus’ “beloved Arab.”
Described as having a “snarling face, a hooked nose, a heavy beard and wearing a headscarf,” the mascot for the school in Southern California’s arid, desert-like interior was inspired in the 1930s by the area’s Middle Eastern ambiance.
With date palms dotting the landscape and communities with names such as Mecca and Oasis, the Arab was originally an homage to the once-robust local Arab community, and he was part of school murals for 83 years, painted on the basketball court and featured in half-time shows where belly dancers shimmied around a student in the costume.
Last Friday, the school abandoned the mascot after a letter-writing campaign from the Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. The campaign, launched in November, sought to wipe out the mascot because of what the committee said was its enforcing of negative stereotypes that are offensive to Arab Americans.
In fact, according to the group’s research, the Coachella Valley mascot was the only one of its kind on any campus in the nation. So, in a compromise, the belly dancer and the mascot were put in mothballs, but the school will keep keep its team nickname, the Arabs, while negotiations continue for a less-offensive logo.
“After dialogue with school officials and student leaders — and consultation with the Justice Department — there was agreement that changes were needed,” said Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director for the anti-discrimination committee. “So the mascot was retired. While the logo is still on the gymnasium floor and murals on campus buildings, we understand that it’s a cash-strapped school district and they promised to take care of that in time.” The organization found out about the mascot after Al Jazeera America and some other national news organizations reported on the imagery last year.
“The school district did not intentionally try to stereotype our community,” Ayoub said. “We respect their ties to the Middle East and the Arab world, and the history behind them.”
Check out LookDifferent.org for more information on bias and what you can do to combat it.