Coachella Valley High School's mascot that appears on logos and school clothing (photo: Coachella Valley High School)
Coachella Valley High School’s controversial Arab mascot has been replaced by a less sinister-looking character, but the school’s Arab nickname remains and the old guy’s hostile visage can still be observed all over campus.
The school came under fire last November when an “appalled” American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) complained that the bearded, snarling, giant-hook-nosed character in traditional headdress was a “harmful form of ethnic stereotyping.” The committee said the high school was the only one in the nation with a demeaning Arab mascot.
The story went viral and online criticism grew exponentially even as many in the community vocally defended the Arabs nickname and imagery.
After months of discussions, the Coachella Valley Unified School District in Riverside County dumped the mascot the school has had since the 1920s. A less-menacing logo image has been substituted and the belly dancing genie who accompanied the mascot at football games and other events has been retired. The mascot with the huge fake head has made his final appearance.
The school district conjured up five different logo designs, which they passed along to the civil rights group. They chose one that has a neatly trimmed beard, is stoic but not in an unnerving fashion and has a much less-pronounced proboscis. He does not look like he is about to behead a journalist.
The school originally adopted its nickname and public image as a way to recognize and promote its desert locale and agricultural products. They have a lot of date palms and Coachella is the primary date-growing region in the country. It didn’t hurt that the country was undergoing an appreciation for all things Middle East after Rudolph Valentino swept filmgoers off their feet in 1921 with release of “The Sheik.”
A logo change in the 1940s replaced a kinder, gentler image with a fiercer one, they say, to inspire the football team. And in the 1950 a headscarf replaced the character’s fez.
But the school district realized it had an image problem at least as long ago as September 11, 2001, and it wasn’t necessarily due to heightened sensitivity. Some people feared an association with terrorists. The mascot survived the terrorist threat, but controversy over professional football’s Washington Redskins refocused national attention on traditional sports and school branding that has fallen out of favor in a more enlightened era.
The Coachella school district doesn’t have a lot of money, so it’s going to take awhile for the offensive logo to disappear from the school’s gymnasium, website and welcome sign. It is a focal point of a giant campus mural. Ongoing negotiations are expected to produce more changes, some of which may be in place on November 7 when the Coachella High football team squares off against its primary conference rival, the Indio Rajahs.