Originally written on The Other Paper  |  Last updated 9/17/14

A California high school is feeling the heat for the use of its "Arab" mascot at the school. The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, based in Washington D.C., sent a letter to the Coachella Valley Unified School District Thursday stating the mascot, which is painted on the walls of Coachella Valley High School (Thermal, CA.), on the basketball gym floor and performed by a student during halftime of athletic events, are examples of gross stereotyping, which must not be tolerated. "ADC strongly believes that use of the word and such imagery perpetuates demeaning stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans," wrote Abed Ayoub, legal and policy director for the committee. "The 'Arab' mascot image is a harmful form of ethnic stereotyping which should be eliminated. 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." The district's superintendent Darryl Adams could not be reached for comment Wednesday but a district representative said he has spoken to the committee and the Board of Education is scheduled to discuss the matter at its Nov. 21 meeting. Ayoub said in an interview Wednesday he appreciates the sensitivity shown so far by the district and hopes to work with them on a solution for a new mascot. He declined to state what he wants the school to do — noting that should ultimately be decided by the district. The pictures painted at the school include a man with a large nose, heavy beard, and wearing a Kffiay, or traditional Arab head covering. During sporting events a student dresses as the mascot comes out to music, while a female dressed as a belly dancer entertains him, Ayoub said. The school has had a version of the mascot since 1910 and the local community has a connection to the Middle East because a lot of crops from the region are grown there locally, he said. But the image originated decades ago and the context of the design has been lost. So it is easy to see why this unflattering "cartoon" character could be seen as offensive today. But the community can keep its connection without using such stereotypical images, Ayoub believes. "We live in a new America now," he said. "We're more racially sensitive and diverse. The logic used to pick that name no longer applies now." Pictures of the evolution can be seen in this video by TV station WFMY2. After Sept. 11, some people wanted the name changed so that the district would not be associated with terrorists, said David Hinkle, a 1961 Coachella Valley High School graduate to Al Jazeera America . "I don't think it's meant to be insensitive," Hinkle said. "It's been that way for 50 or 60 years."

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