The Redskins isn’t the only sports team facing push-back over negative ethnic connotations associated with its name. An advocacy group that seeks to protect the rights of Arab-Americans wrote a letter on Friday urging a high school in Thermal, Calif., to abandon its official team name and mascot, known as “the Arab,” claiming that both are derogatory toward those of Arab descent.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a Washington, D.C.-based civil rights group, penned a letter to the Coachella Valley Unified School District taking aim at these sentiments, saying it is “appalled at the use of a caricature depicted to be an ‘Arab’ as the official mascot of the high school,” USA Today reported.
“The ‘Arab’ mascot image is a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping which should be eliminated,” wrote Abed Ayoub, director of legal and policy affairs for the civil rights group “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.”
Read the letter below:
While The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is voicing its outrage, those associated with the school district told USA Today that there’s actually a historical reason the mascot and team name were chosen.
The high school’s alumni association claims the mascot was created in the 1920s to commemorate the importance of date (fruit) farming. Since this revered crop is grown in California, but originates in northern Africa and has Middle Eastern roots, the Arab mascot was born as an apparent sign act of reverence.
Plus, there’s the fact that a nearby California city is called “Mecca,” yet another connection between the area and the Middle East.
USA Today reported that the current design of the mascot was unveiled in the 1950s. Based on an “angry Arab” design, rather than disparaging Middle Easterners, Art Montoya, a member of the alumni association, said that the mascot was meant to give a notion that the Coachella Valley High School football team should be feared (USA Today has a pictorial history of the mascot here).
Coachella Valley Unified School District Superintendent Darryl Adams told the outlet that he would take the issue up at the next school board meeting on Nov. 21 and he admitted that “the Arab” caught his attention in the past as well.
“When I first came here, I raised an eyebrow (at the mascot),” Adams told USA Today. “Being an African-American from the Deep South, I’m sensitive to stereotyping. But in this context when this was created, it was not meant in that way. It was totally an admiration of the connection with the Middle East.”
Nonetheless, The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee wants the name and the mascot changed. While the organization acknowledged the context of the mascot’s origins, the letter called these justifications in today’s day and age “no longer tolerable.”
Alumni and students, alike, are split on the issue and it’s unclear whether the district will take definitive action.
(H/T: USA Today)
Featured image credit: USA Today/Coachella Valley High School Alumni Association