An Arab mascot located in Southern California is creating quite the controversy these days. Coachella Valley High School has been known as the “Arabs” since the early 1930s but the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is demanding that it is time for a name and mascot change.
The main complaint is that the mascot furthers middle eastern stereotypes. He is described as “a man with a large nose, heavy beard, and wearing” a traditional head covering. The Arab mascot also gets to dance with belly dancers at half time.
“Continued use of the ‘Arab’ mascot perpetuates demeaning stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans,” the civil rights group said. “Coachella Valley High School’s gross stereotyping cannot be tolerated.”
The school contends that the mascot is not intended to be offensive or stereotyping at all. Instead, the mascot was intended to be a nod to the farming industry of Thermal, CA and the surrounding areas. The Coachella Valley, a popular winter retreat that includes Palm Springs, currently produces 95% of the country’s dates in two dozen varieties. The Arab mascot recognizes the influences of the Middle East in the area’s date farming, said Rich Ramirez, president of the Coachella Valley High School Alumni Association and a 1959 graduate of the high school.
In the early 1900s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture acquired date shoots from Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries and used them to establish date orchards in the valley’s desert climate. Now Middle Eastern influences are reflected all throughout the community. From building designs to logo’s, the Arabic culture is firmly planted in the Coachella Valley.
Ramirez was frustrated by the accusation that the school’s mascot was offensive. “We’re proud of Arab tradition and Arab culture,” Ramirez said. Ramirez said that the school has always stood by the Arabic community, even in the face of 9/11.
“Work with us. Don’t come off like we’re something terrible. We’re not terrible. When 9/11 came, we got terrible, terrible threats to change the name of our mascot. We said no. People love the name; they love the culture; they love our date festival.”
Offensive sports mascots have been in the news quite a bit in recent years. Most recently there has been a strong push for the NFL’s Washington Redskins to change their name, with concerns that “Redskins” is offensive to the Native American community.
Coachella Valley High School wants to keep their name and their mascot, but they are willing to change the mascot in order to preserve their heritage. Concerning the mascot change, Ramirez said, “The comment they make is that it [is] a hook-nose Arab. We have been using the snarling face to instill fear in the opponent. That’s what a mascot does. But we can put a handsome dude in the mascot.”
Do you think the Arab mascot is offensive? Would you change the name or the mascot?