As someone who has extreme frustration with misrepresentation in the media, in my ideal world it would be mandatory for everyone (especially Fox News) to take a course in addressing religious and cultural identities. Instead, public schools require students learn to write in cursive and mandate cruel and unusual punishment via calculus. I have yet to come up with a semi-realistic scenario in which either of these requirements would be useful.
If that doesn’t make public education bad enough, imagine going to a school where on top of all that you were faced with an inaccurate generalization of your cultural identity every day, literally.
Unfortunately, some students don’t have to imagine that. The Coachella Valley High School mascot, the Arab, is what seems like a life-size, stereotyped bobble-head that is supposed to represent an Arab — and a frightening one, at that.
With his excessive facial hair, angry expression and traditional Arab headpiece (called a “kaffiyah” in Arabic), the mascot looks like he was taken straight out of a caricature portfolio. Not to mention the belly dancer that dances for “the Arab” during halftime shows, which completely devalues and objectifies Arab women. None of the Arab-Americans I know look like that, nor do I believe that they appreciate that representation.
As Dr. Tobias Fünke so succinctly put it: “Well, I don’t want to blame it all on 9/11, but it certainely didn’t help.”
Prancing around in an extremely stereotypical, derogatory outfit representing Arab culture is extremely offensive, especially to students at Coachella Valley who identify as Arab-Americans.
Despite all that, Coachella Valley alumni chose to view this situation in a different light. Rich Ramirez, a 1959 graduate and President of the Alumni Association, responded to the uproar by saying “We’re proud of Arab tradition and Arab culture.”
It doesn’t seem like Ramirez truly understands what it means to appreciate a culture. Appreciating culture doesn’t mean your high school adopts a mascot inspired by the people of that culture. Apparently expressing appreciation through a culture night, or having an Arab-American guest speaker just isn’t enough (sorry, Ralph Nader).
After this issue dies down maybe Coachella Valley High School should reconsider its curriculum. Unless they take pride in their graduates’ total lack of cultural awareness and understanding, in which case, keep doing what you’re doing Coachella Valley.
Unfortunately Ramirez is only one of few who chose to defend team names that are blatantly offensive to people who identify with those cultures. Other teams such as the Washington Redskins, Canyon High Comanches, Indio High’s Raja and Palm Desert High Aztecs, just to name a few, have been criticized for adopting names of ethnic groups as mascots. Unfortunately, I hold a Canyon High School diploma, so I was once a reluctant Canyon High Comanche.
To make things even scarier, “the Arab” has been the school mascot since 1930. The mascot arose from the prominence of Lebanese-American date farms in Coachella Valley at the time, and the mascot was considered a tribute. The mascot has been around for 80 years and just this year the Anti-Arab Discrimination Committee (ADC) decided to publically shame the school for their mascot. The ADC has been around for 30 years, which seems like enough time to recognize the inaccuracy and offensive nature of this mascot.
Yes, the political climate surrounding Arabs and Arab-Americans has evolved and may have not been present 30 years ago, but this discourse did not magically appear earlier this year.
No doubt, some people think I’m being oversensitive, which is fair. But in light of recent conversations and personal experiences, misrepresentations of Arabs and Arab culture are far too common. It doesn’t seem fitting for a high school to adopt an Arab as its mascot and defend its choice by claiming to appreciate Arab culture.
If you want to appreciate Arab culture, a good place to start would be to first understand it.
Aliza Asad is a second-year international studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Filed Under: Opinion