After facing mounting pressure to change its team name, Coachella Valley High School has decided to change its mascot from the “Arabs” to the “Mighty Arabs.”
See what they did there? No? Here’s a brief explanation from Phillip J. Victor at Al Jazeera:
The Coachella Valley High School Arabs will now be known as the Mighty Arabs, after the school district’s board of trustees voted 5-0 on Tuesday to amend the school’s team name. They also agreed to change CVHS’ Arab mascot to look less barbaric and more distinguished.
The changes followed 10 months of collaboration with the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a civil rights group based in Washington, D.C.
ADC had lobbied officials at Coachella Valley Unified School District since November 2013 to amend the school’s team name and drop its mascot – a grimacing face that many Arab-Americans said promoted negative stereotypes.
The new mascot is supposed to be an improvement. Not only did the school’s previous mascot feature all of the worst caricatures of Arabs and Muslims, the school’s representation of Arab culture was equally, if not more, problematic. So-called “Harem girls” marched in band parades and belly dancers performed at halftime during team games. “The mascot is basically an angry ‘Arab’ head – hooknose, long beard, headscarf and all,” Abed Ayoub, ADC’s legal and policy director, said in November when Al Jazeera broke news of the group’s campaign.
The new mascot, according to Ayoub, was chosen with input from the local Arab-American community and was designed by Jesus Olivares and Sergio Espinosa, two of the school’s alums who own nearby INKA Printing and Embroidery. “I saw it as a way to turn something into a positive. Also, because I was an alumni and went to school there, I felt like I had to give it a positive look instead of the image they had before,” Olivares said.
The new image is meant to be a dignified representation of Arab culture. “This process has been a learning experience for everyone involved,” said ADC President Samer Khalaf. “We have had an opportunity to teach those in Coachella Valley about Arab culture and heritage. At the same time, we have had the opportunity to learn about the history of Coachella Valley and its strong connection to the Arab world.”
Everyone involved took pains to mention that the original mascot wasn’t “intentionally” racist, but that intention doesn’t negate impact, and the choice of a another caricature of Arab culture – particularly at a time when Arab-American activists are being attacked and threatened with beheading in Brooklyn – is questionable to me.
(h/t Al Jazeera America)