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California

‘Arab’ high school mascot criticized for ethnic stereotyping

The superintendent of a district that has come under fire for a high school “Arab” mascot says this is the first time he has heard any criticism about the issue in his 25-year career.

A civil rights group is urging Coachella Valley High School to eliminate its official mascot, the “Arab,” saying the school is reinforcing ethnic stereotypes.

In a letter sent Nov. 1 to the Coachella Valley Unified School District, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee writes that the caricature of the Arab perpetuates demeaning stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans.

The Arab is a man with a large nose and heavy beard wearing a kaffiyeh, a traditional Arab head covering, the letter says. At sporting events, a student dressed as the mascot makes an appearance with a woman dressed as a belly dancer performing next to him, and the mascot’s face is featured prominently at the school’s athletic facilities.

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Darryl Adams, superintendent for Coachella Valley Unified School District, said he had never heard any criticism before receiving the letter.

“I’m not sure the issue is the name as much as it might be the depiction of the mascot,” he said.

The mascot dates to the 1920s when the school began competing in athletics. The name Arabs was chosen for the schools’ teams, and mascot, to recognize the importance of the date industry in the area.

It also “fit in perfectly with the neighboring towns of Mecca, Oasis, Arabia, and Thermal,” according to a description from the school’s alumni association.

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The Arab was originally drawn riding a horse with a lance and a turban, and has evolved throughout the years, according to the association.

The civil rights group said it understands the context in which the mascot was chosen, but those reasons are not justifiable in the 21st century.

“By allowing continued use of the term and imagery, you are commending and enforcing the negative stereotypes of an entire ethic group,” said the ADC, which also has a petition on its website.

The district has had preliminary conversations with the ADC, and will meet with the group’s attorney after the issue is discussed at its Nov. 21 school board meeting.

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samantha.schaefer@latimes.com


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