(THERMAL, Calif.) — A national organization that defends Arab-American rights is calling on a high school in Southern California to discontinue the use of its current mascot because it offends Arabs.
Coachella Valley High School in Thermal, Calif., has been nicknamed the “Arabs” since 1931. But the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) says the school’s dancing mascot that wears a traditional Arab head-covering is offensive to Arab Americans.
The organization wrote a letter to the school district this week asking the school to meet with the ADC and discuss the name, logo and mascot.
“ADC strongly believes that use of the word and such imagery perpetuates demeaning stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans,” ADC wrote in its letter.
Unlike the controversy involving “Redskins” – the nickname of Washington D.C.’s NFL team – the issue here is less that the name is directly offensive, but more that the name when paired with the logo and mascot depict offensive images.
“That logo is a very stereotypical logo,” ADC’s director of legal and policy affairs Abed Ayoub told ABC’s Palm Springs affiliate KESQ. “It’s very offensive to many Arabs and many Arab Americans.”
Ayoub said he has spoken with Coachella Valley Superintendent Darryl S. Adams at least half a dozen times on the matter.
“We are moving along with constant dialogue and communication,” Ayoub told ABCNews.com. “I’m confident we’ll reach a resolution that gets rid of stereotypical images but still recognizes the school’s heritage.”
The president of Coachella Valley High School’s alumni association, Rich Ramirez, has heard this all before. He wants to know exactly what the Anti-Discrimination Committee doesn’t like about the logo.
“It’s just unreal how they keep doing this thing over and over again without ever coming in and sitting down at the table,” Ramirez told KESQ TV.
He says the name and mascot pay homage to Middle Eastern nations – and the contribution the region made to Southern California’s palm trees through date palm shoots and seeds.
“It wasn’t to discriminate, it was to say, ‘Hey, thank you, Middle East,'” Ramirez told KESQ. “We bought it from them, the date shoots, and now the date industry.”
In addition to the logo and mascot, ADC finds the school’s traditional halftime routine particularly offensive. That performance features a girl belly-dancing for the Arab mascot, surrounded by cheerleaders.
“Bombers, billionaires or belly-dancers,” Ayoub said to KESQ. “There’s a lot more to Arab Americans, the Arab culture and the Arab heritage than what’s being depicted by this high school.”
Superintendent Adams said the school will address ADC’s concerns.
“We do have different culture backgrounds and things that we want to respect and be aware of, and have those conversations when necessary and appropriate,” Adams said to KESQ.
The school district is expected to discuss ADC’s complaints in front of the school board on Nov. 21.
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Ray Sanchez, CNN Newswire
Chuck Johnston, CNN Newswire