Education
Desert Sun screenshot Desert Sun screenshot  

Charges Of ‘Orientalist Stereotyping’ Force High School To Change ‘Arabs’ Mascot

A group of Arab-Americans on a quest to find and eliminate discrimination against Arab-Americans has forced a high school in California to retire its mascot honoring Arabs.

The school that caved is Coachella Valley High School, reports The Desert Sun.

Coachella Valley High, which is located in the Southern California desert about 25 miles from Palm Springs, will no longer feature its Arab mascot at football games and the like.

The retired Arab wore a traditional Middle Eastern headdress and had a long, hook nose and a thick, nefarious-looking mustache and beard. The mascot frequently appeared during halftime shows alongside a female genie who belly danced.

The genie has also been sent to the ash heap of history.

For now, Coachella Valley High is still crawling with images of the same Arab — on a big welcome sign, on a huge mural in the school gym and on the front page of the school’s website, for example. Other local school buildings have murals with a genie lamp and a book designed to look like a flying carpet.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a civil rights group, has criticized all of this imagery as “orientalist stereotyping” that is offensive to all Arabs, notes the Sun.

“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 Abed Ayoub, the group’s legal director, last year. (RELATED: California High School Told They Have To Change Their Arab Mascot)

In 2003, after University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian was indicted on charges related to terrorism, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee was also offended. The group issue a press release alleging a “pattern of profiling and targeting” Arab-Americans. On CNN, communications director Hussein Ibish called the indictment “a political witch-hunt, a vendetta, and a kind of very, very ugly post-9/11 McCarthyism.”

In 2006, Al-Arian pleaded guilty to a single charge of conspiracy to help a terrorist organization called the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. He was sentenced to almost five years in prison and then deportation.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee mounted its criticism campaign of Coachella High’s Arab mascot last year. Before that, the school had used various incarnations of the mascot for nearly a century and no one objected.

Current students and alumni at Coachella High called the mascot criticism “political correctness run amok” and strongly resisted any change. Supporters noted that the mascot had been originally chosen because the local area, like the Middle East, is famous for the production of dates.

The Coachella Valley Unified School District eventually announced a compromise: The high school teams would still be the “Arabs” but the mascot design would be radically redesigned. Also, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee would approve the newly-redesigned mascot.

A group of students, alumni and school officials submitted five options in the spring.

The one approved by the Arab civil rights group has a fat, round nose and a far less impressive beard-and-mustache combo.

“We passed it around to experts and community members,” Ayoub, the legal director, told the Sun. “We took our time to get the opinion of that logo, and it was overwhelmingly positive.”

The local school board must still give its final stamp of approval to the new-look logo.

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