Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arab Mascots, Arab Scientists, and Win-Win Situations

On Facebook today, I found this article from Al-Jazeera about Coachella Valley High School and its mascot, the Arabs. The image of the mascot on the school sign looks like some caricature of Yasser Arafat and there are a lot of more benign but still kind of cliched images of Arabs elsewhere on the school.

As you can imagine, some Americans of Arab extraction are not happy campers about it. Especially the image on the school sign, which is ugly as hell. Maybe he's supposed to intimidate the school's athletic rivals, but I'm not so un-empathetic that I can't understand how Arabs who've had to deal with the terrorist or oil sheikh stereotypes their whole lives might be bothered.

However, changing the mascot completely would be an enormous expensive pain in the behind. You'd need to repaint everything, rebrand everything, get people accustomed to using the new mascot, etc. And this isn't like the situation with the Washington Redskins, where "Redskin" is an actual racial slur. It's not like they're the Coachella Camel Jockeys (or worse). I'd compare it more to the Florida State Seminoles. Plus so far it's just one Arab-American organization that's upset--it doesn't seem like there's some massive groundswell among the Arab-American community in general or the local community (more important because it's their school).

So here's an idea that should please everybody. Keep most of the artwork and imagery for historical reasons and because although cliched they're not really insulting. However, replace the guy on the school sign who looks like a cliched terrorist with the image of one of the great Arab intellectuals. The "angry Arab head" might be fine for the sports teams to scare people with (and it wouldn't be seen as often), but the school is an educational environment and that should be paramount.

My initial idea for a new "Arab" mascot would be Avicenna, but it turns out he's Persian. Fortunately a quick Google search found this article, which lists many great Arabic scientists who kept the classical heritage alive and made many discoveries of their own while Europe stagnated. Someone whose field of learning is most relevant to a particular local industry would be best. If none are available, al-Battani might be a good pick, since he's so instrumental in trigonometry--something in Georgia at least is taught in high school.

This is a win-win for everybody. A rather caricatured image of an Arab is reduced in importance if not removed completely, the often-ignored contributions of Arab scientists are highlighted, and the school gets to keep its mascot.

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