The End of the Coachella “Arab” Debate

A couple of weeks ago, it might have been cute if I had shown you the above array of logos and asked, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if a high school in America actually used any of these?”  Well, as we all now know, it’s not some hypothetical question.

Recently, we learned that there is a high school in southeastern California known as the Coachella Valley High School Arabs.  Yes, they use the term “Arab.”  And when I say they “use the term,” I really mean it.  Their “Arab” has a turban, hook nose, beard, and just looks plain mean.  He is straight out of “True Lies,” or “Back To The Future,” or “24,” or “The Siege,” or “The Mummy,” or “The Kingdom,” or “Rules of Engagement.”  He doesn’t look like that Arab hero in that movie… oh well, I’m sure there’s one out there somewhere.

We also learned that during the halftime show of their basketball games, Coachella’s cheerleaders gather around the “Arab” as a female student dressed as a belly dancer shakes her hips around him.  If this actually happened to us real Arabs, I would have gotten married already.

The Arab-American community has taken this all in.  And different segments of our community have held different views on the matter.  They have debated the issue.  And we Arabs are professional debaters.  In fact, it might not be uncommon to hear an Arab say, “I’m not sure what we are talking about, but I’m pretty sure I disagree with you.”

Well, everyone, the debate is over.  There is no world in which what Coachella is doing is allowable.  When I first wrote satirically about this whole thing, I thought I was just delivering clever commentary.  I had no idea I was participating in a debate, especially with my own people.

Some of my fellow Arab Americans have said, “They have had this logo for such a long time.  Let it be.”  Well, there is no statute of limitations on stereotyping, racism, and injustice.  Just because something goes on for a long time does not make it right.  Slavery went on for over 400 years.  Apartheid in South Africa lasted for almost 50 years.  A wife might nag her husband for his entire adult life.  The passage of time doesn’t make any of those things acceptable.

They have also told me, “Isn’t it good that someone is proud of being an Arab?”  Well, I guess so, in theory.  But when a non-Arab is proud of being an “Arab,” it can get a little weird.  And when they display their pride by using only the most stereotypical images of our culture (belly dancers, turbans, and swords), it’s harmful.  Arab Americans boast more college graduates per capita than any minority group in this country.  Maybe Coachella’s mascot should wear a cap and gown.

Lastly, some of my Arab American friends have noted, “Don’t we have bigger problems than some small high school in the middle of California?”  It might seem like that.  But the Coachella issue must be seen as a symptom.  The real disease is the systematic misrepresentation, dehumanization, and discrimination that occur against us daily.  In that sense, what Coachella is doing is no different than an Arab getting “extra scrutiny” at the airport.  In fact, that Coachella “Arab” probably couldn’t fly anywhere.

I say to those Arab Americans who think that there is nothing wrong with what Coachella is doing: Wake up.  You may think that the mascot shows that they are proudly accepting us.  But if that is what acceptance looks like, I’ll pass.  And if that is the kind of acceptance you accept, you need to reassess.  If you consent to others portraying us not as who we are, but rather as who they whimsically imagine us to be, reconsider your position.  Your strategy to keep shaking hands with the politicians and avoid rocking the boat has failed.  You might think that you score points with mainstream white America by brushing off Coachella as “no big deal.”  But your struggle to become “white” is not only misguided, it is counterproductive.  You may think that we are not in the middle of a liberation movement.  You’re wrong.  And it’s time to join in.

To the non-Arabs who think that we are making too much of the Coachella mascot, I beg you to ask yourselves: Why is racism somehow tolerable when the victims are Arabs and Muslims?  Imagine if Coachella’s students were the “Mexicans,” with the above mascot wearing a sombrero and handlebar mustache.  And imagine if during halftime he did the tango with a female student.  Would you be shocked if the Mexican community had a problem with that?  Or imagine if they were the “Blacks,” with the above mascot sporting a hoodie, goatee, earrings, and gold chains.  And imagine if during halftime he rapped as bikini-wearing female students danced around him.  Wouldn’t you expect Al Sharpton to quickly show up at the high school’s doorstep?  Now I didn’t make an illustration for this next example because I was scared.  But imagine if they were the “Jews.”  They would not have to change the facial features of their “Arab” mascot much, of course.  He would really just need to lose the turban and add a yarmulke.  And imagine if during halftime he just sat on the court and did people’s taxes.  Imagine.

Now, I have communicated with many “Arabs” from Coachella in the past couple weeks.  I should say that they seem to be really honest, awesome people.  Overwhelmingly, they want to keep their mascot in all its current forms.  That is understandable.  The high school there is a central part of the community, and its traditions are strong.  I believe that the people of Coachella are wholly well intentioned.  But intentions don’t matter here.  Only effects do.

They see themselves as proud “Arabs.”  But lucky for them, they only have to be “Arabs” in the classroom and during sporting events.  I have to be an Arab all the time.  It’s not nearly as fun as it looks during halftime.

**Illustrations by Manifest Design,

About Amer Zahr 181 Articles
Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."


  1. Well said, I love how even when its serious it always has a touch of Amer in it!! I got your back if you need it. I have flipped so many makloubahs in my day its comparable to calling me a heavy weight lifter :)

    • Seriously, a freakin’ leprechaun? Where, pray tell, do I find a country full of leprechauns? What do leprechauns speak? Do Irish people even look like leprechauns? What the hell do leprechauns eat? Luck Charms? Who was the marketing genius behind Lucky Charms? My bet it wasn’t Irish people.

      • You are a bunch of fucken cry babies. Do what you have to pussies. Truth be told. Its bullshit like this that separates us more. You want to create tension. Bring it. Assholes like you are the ones who are taking away our freedom little by little. I bet you would be happy if everything went to shit. Your stupid ass doesn’t know anything about our valley and you probably have never even heard of it until this came into focus in main stream media. Your a puppet for them you fucken idiot! At this point all this is creating is more hate toward you. Let me apologize on behalf of our valley for ever trying to celebrate our middle eastern connections! Why the fuck are you even speaking? Shut the fuck up.

  2. I’ll comment tomorrow from the comfort of my office desk chair….but you’ve just managed to express your stereotypical nature with this short piece….I’ll have much to add tomorrow.

  3. In the words of a HS student who presented at the board meeting last Friday, “Why US and not other schools using an “arab” as mascot? It seems that the biggest complaint is the “stereotyping” image. Changing the mascot will not change the minds of those that are close minded when it comes to race. I also read that we don’t have an idea of what “stereotyping” is? Well, let me tell you that I am one of the few bi-racial students on campus and I know what “stereotyping” is … and WE ARE NOT STEREOTYPING or making fun of nobody in our school! At Coachella Valley High School we are taught to stand up for what we believe in, and I believe that our mascot should stay! A mascot is supposed to be an image the driving force behind our athletic teams, athletes, alumni and fans getting pumped up for games and it is how many teams are identified!!! If anybody feels that OUR ARAB NO longer represents the ideals of sportsmanship, strength, tenacity, team spirit, the desire to succeed, competitiveness, camaraderie, boldness, bravery, friendship and FAMILY. Then by all means they should do away with the mascot and HELP US pay all the changes we have to do to our 103 years of history!! … 103 years of pictures say one thing, “CVHS is home of THE ARABS!”
    By the way, do your research, TANGO is from Spain!

    • “Making fun of nobody” means you’re making fun of somebody. Did they teach you that in CVHS? Apparently the English Dept could use a few lessons or two.

    • Nabil no one speaks for me I said what I felt regardless of anyone else’s comments so lets not put everyone in the same category.Gee… you are hilarious frankly this conversation might work the opposite way to turn something positive into something negative and instead of embracing our cultures and respecting eachother maybe this will separate to proud cultures that have successfully worked together for years. If that happends so be it but I don’t see how this will improve the image we currently have of the Arab community which like I said before has never been negative

  4. I’m with you I keep asking myself. Why on earth would a close knit community, like the Coachella Valley want to celebrate your Arab terrorist nation. I hope you win this fight. It’s about time America wakes up and sees you for who you really are. Obviously not our friends. You guys despise us and we are supposed to turn the other cheek. I doubt we would be afforded the same rights in your country. No one even looked at our mascot in the way you mentioned. Until you planted the “RACE” seed in everyone’s head. Now I do see our mascot as disrespectful. Disrespectful to us, for continuing to chant mighty Arabs. So good luck in your endeavor to further separate your “ARABS” from our Americans. Cheers!

  5. If you want us to take the name, “Mexicans,” with a mascot wearing a sombrero and handlebar mustache. Well, I’m not offendend, EMILIANO ZAPATA is a great example of the same thing our ARAB has represented for the last 103 years: sportsmanship, strength, tenacity, team spirit, the desire to succeed, competitiveness, camaraderie, boldness, bravery, friendship and FAMILY.

  6. You and many other people have blown this out of proportion. We never used our mascot as any disrespect to your culture and we don’t intend to start now. We never saw it as discrimination until you and other people came in and started putting it in people’s head. With no disrespect but you have never set foot in our school, classrooms, football games, or any events what so ever so I don’t see how you may think we are disrespecting your culture. Now if we were to disrespect we would probably use terrorism right? But no we don’t. We take pride in our mascot and genie. Now what I don’t understand is why are you only attacking our school but not the schools that use the Indians, Rajahs, or the Aztecs as mascots. If you didn’t know, the Rajahs also have a genie who dances and I don’t see anybody telling them any things at all. So I do not agree with you and if our mascot does change it’s features just know that we will keep fighting until it looks exactly as it is right now. You have 100 years to deal with, that is a lot of alumni’s that are gonna come together and keep fighting. Let’s go Arabs lets go!!

  7. Actually Tango is a typical dance from from Argentina and Imagine if Coachella’s students were the “Mexicans,” with the above mascot wearing a sombrero and handlebar mustache. We would have nothing to be ashamed of our culture is beautiful and proud yes our elders wear sombreros our elders have moustaches and perhaps many other things that can be stereotypical and we are a proud people because we are also known as being hard working. So sorry you take offense to people being proud of your culture perhaps we shouldn’t and also focus on the negatives rather than the positives after all no one is perfect.

  8. I will also say one other thing, as an Alumni considering myself an Arab I was never given any ignorance information about our mascot in our “ignorance” all we have done is cherish our loving mascot without even thinking about negative stereotypes but perhaps if the mascot was changed some outside people might also consider this as a sign of the Arab nation being a negative presence in our valley hhmmm just wondering

  9. Sorry, yes … Tango is from Argentina, Flamenco is from Spain and EL JARABE TAPATIO from Mexico!!! So, change our mascot but I’m assuming you’re picking up the BILL!!

  10. You are only bringing this stereotype over yourself. Very few people think of 911 when “arabs” are mentioned. Also, the community of hard working people, and many graduating High School and earning degrees as well, never thought on offending anybody about portraying what looks to me like a pirate. We are proud of the community and what it was founded on, Dates… It is incredible that in 2013, we still are so closed minded.
    BTW: first generation Mexican American earning a Bachelors degree as a Nurse, and planning to get a Master’s degree. We earn degree’s too.

  11. Wow look at all the Coachella racists coming out in full force on this one. Just because we find the mascot offensive, Davey Torrez wants to label all of us…all Arab-Americans whether Egyptian, Syrian, Palestinian, Lebanese or from any of the 22 Arab countries as a collective “Arab Terrorist Nation.” Gotta love that. He’s a great representative for Denise and Marisa’s proud faux Arab community.

  12. One thing is for sure, they wouldn’t dare call their team the Coachella Niggaz. 1) There’s too many white folks living there and 2) It’s not PC to be racist against Black people anymore but it’s always open season on Arabs. I wonder if any Jews living in Coachella refer to themselves as “Arabs” too? That would be surreal as hell.

  13. Amer, you hit the nail on the head there. I have Arab heritage and I’m proud of it! Funny thing, though, my alma mater – A.C.S. Amman- has a scorpion as the school mascot. It’s sad that our heritage has been reduced to a mean-looking mascot for Coachella Valley High School.

  14. Wow. So many well thought out rebuttals. Thank you students and alumni of Coachella Valley for educating me on when my culture is being stereotyped…(sarcasm doesn’t always come across well in written form, so please know that the previous paragraph was sarcastic)

    This is the same debate that goes on in Washington D.C surrounding the Redskins. The media almost universally agrees that it is stereotyping and racist, but people who are closely connected to the mascot have trouble seeing that.

    I understand, as Amer says, that the mascot is meaningful to you and that history and pride are tied very closely with the mascot. The problem is that the Arab mascot, like most mascots, is a caricature of what it is representing. Nobody likes to see something they have pride in, that plays a huge part of who they are and where they come from, made into a cartoon. That’s the reason Marquette University changed their mascot from the Warriors, depicting Native Americans, to the Golden Eagles. It’s the reason that St. John’s University is no longer known as the “Redmen.”

    Think about it this way. How would you feel to open up your Sunday paper and see a cartoon about Coachella Valley students and alumni? Making you look silly. Insulting things that you hold close. Intended or not, that’s how this mascot comes across and that’s why this is a big deal.

  15. Wow Amer, who knew there were soo many self-hating Arabs? Maybe we need to start using “a-rab” to describe and separate those idiots out of the community- that way we’ll be like other minority groups with the FOBs, the Arab-Americans and the A-rabs? I wish they’d just go back to pretending they’re Italian rather than embracing such a stupid and misleading image. How embarassing for their moms and their proud ancestors ….

  16. Anyone who does not see the mascot as offensive is simply burrying their heads in the sand. It is racist…pure and simple. There is little need for analysis. My wife, a WASP, thought the same and suggested that this High School use an Arab Stallion as the mascot. The stallion is a symbol of pride, honor, and courage. The caricature used is offensive and does not resemble any Arabs I know. Arabs and non-Arabs on this post (those who are indifferent) need to wake up and see it for what it is…RACISM, anti-Arabism, anti-Muslim.

  17. I believe this is just an insecurity for them. Us the Mexicans are proud people, we have nothing against the “arabs” the majority of people who live there are illegal or working class people and we wouldn’t complain of something like this happen to us. Since I graduated CVHS 7 years ago, I visited the world I’ve been to 15 different countries 4 of them being middle eastern. You want to talk racism I can go into descriptive and disgusting racism coming from the ” Arabs” but that’s not what im here to say. I’m here to say who needs the Arab mascot change it to the Mexican or anything that displays our will to move forward our strengths, our integrity, honor, courage etc. Because apparently the Arab does not display that since they are upset about it.

    Also if you didn’t know across the valley, palm desert high school are the Aztecs and we don’t complain about them.

  18. I agree with everything except grouping slavery, apartheid, with a nagging wife. This seems sexist and just as bad as the Coachella Arabs. Maybe you could just say mutually abusive relationships or leave that out all together.

  19. There are so many things I’d like to say, but I’ll stick to the most important. One, what was said about the other ethnicities was so off especially the whole tango being from Mexico, For the person that said the Valley’s population was mainly caucasian has obviously never set foot here so shouldn’t even be talking. The area surrounding CVHS is mainly hispanic, we wouldn’t mind the mexican with the sombrero and the mustache (our school has a mariachi band) we wouldn’t care, why you may ask we are not overly sensitive as others and I am sure if you had a mascot portraying a black person most would think its a cool idea. Of course everyone is entitled to their own opinions but please people do some research. I hope the mascot does not change and if it does I hope whoever started this pays for all expenses its not like CVHS is the richest school in the area. Rather than hindering them the ADC should actually partner/sponsor the school to make the CVHS Arabs even better…

  20. You have a very good point. Personally as an “Arab” I would not mind if the mascot is changed. I understand where you are coming from. I am a Mexican American and I have strong ties to my country and race. So, this argument is understandable and productive if you are trying to change the idea of how other “non-Arabs” see you and your fellow Arabs. We as humans should understand that we don’t want to be seen lower and be segregated. So in response to you’re statement, I agree with you and stand by you. Good luck.

  21. Many people making comments are obviously not part of our community Mike… so perhaps you should make a visit like Abed Ayoub, the legal and policy affairs director for the ADC who actually came out and asked questions and visited out school and met with our officials he is a true gentleman

  22. I believe that a lot of you are misinterpreting Amer’s point. He is not speaking negatively against the people at Coachella Valley High School, he explicitly states that the majority of you are well intentioned. He is simply saying that entertaining stereotypical depictions of Arabs has the potential to propagate the negative portrayal of Arabs. It is something much more subtle, similar to the way the media generally portrays Arabs.

    PS: Not being part of your community shouldn’t be a requirement for defending the integrity of Arabs in this country.

  23. Mousa I did not imply that it was a requirement to be part of this community to defend the integrity of Arabs. I was making a statemet in response to a false statement made earlier about the ethnic background of our community being mainly caucasian. That is why I suggested to visit out community before making false statement like that if you have never set foot in our valley and I also gave credit to the gentleman from ADC who actually came out and saw for himself and asked questions visited the school and spoke to our officials.

  24. I’m Arab, and I liked this logo. I don’t care whether or not other groups are used as mascots (though I can think of Fighting Irish, Cleavand Indians, Minnesota Vikings) -that Arab logo was a caricature, and it looked tough and bad ass. The logo has since been changed and it looks pretty lame now; likewise, the mascot is now longer just the Arabs, but now they are the Mighty Arabs. They should have left it alone, but all the indignant people complained. If you want to complain about harmful Arab stereotypes, complain about Hollywood, not about a piss poor community that’s taken an Arab as a symbol of strength, and to have the spirit of a warrior.

    Ease up on the whole ‘I got to be Arab all the time.’ It’s an ethnic group, not some physical disability. Also, you need to look up what a turban is, because that’s not what he was wearing, but I suspect you intentionally ysed that term in order to be dramatic.

    I am really Arab, but don’t want to leave my contact information on this web page.

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