When it comes to mascots, some high schools have bears or eagles. Others have vikings or titans. Coachella Valley High School in California roots for the Arabs — or as they are now called, the Mighty Arabs.
Al Jazeera America reports that after a 10-month process, which included collaboration with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), the high school decided on the name change, as well as a logo redesign.
“The mascot is basically an angry ‘Arab’ head — hooknose, long beard, headscarf and all,” said ADC legal and policy director Abed Ayoub last November of the old version of the mascot, before the make-over campaign began in earnest.
ADC was reportedly also far from pleased about the harem girls that would march with the band and the belly dancing that would take place during halftime shows at games.
After seeking input from local Arab-Americans, two alumni of Coachella Valley High School redesigned the logo to show “a stoic, strong-jawed man with a neatly trimmed beard.”
Those outside the Coachella Valley, located about two hours east of Los Angeles (and home to the annual Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival), might wonder why the high school did not simply change its mascot all together. Is a Mighty Arab any less offensive than just a plain Arab?
It seems that local residents were not ready to part with a symbol that they feel is tightly tied to the history of the area. The Arab mascot came about originally because of the fact that 95 percent of the US’s dates are grown in the Coachella Valley.
“Government officials introduced the crop — originally sourced from the Middle East — to the region in the late 19th century to promote economic growth. Its cultivation has allowed the California desert community to flourish and has even provided it with an Arabesque look that residents have been proud to promote,” Al Jazeera America reports.
So, apparently, the locals have sweet associations with the Arab mascot and are unwilling to swap it for a less orientalist, and some would say less offensive, one.
According to Darryl Adams, the school district’s superintendent, the shift from the Arabs to the Mighty Arabs has been enlightening for all involved.
“As educators we are beacons of hope and light in helping students understand their place in society and that place does not include stereotypical images that offend,” he was quoted as saying.
ADC did not respond to a request from The Times of Israel for further comment on the matter.