From Rudolph Valentino’s portrayal of an Arabian royal in a 1921-movie entitled “The Sheik” to modern-day depictions of Arabs as terrorists in movies such as “True Lies” and even “Back to the Future,” mainstream Hollywood has always had a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to Muslims and Arabs.
This is why seeing an Arab depicted as a hooked-nose villain type as Coachella Valley High School’s mascot did not immediately shock me. Perhaps, I’m desensitized.
While as a Persian-American I’m not considered an Arab and nor am I Muslim, upon deeper reflection I started to find the depiction of the Arab mascot used by the Coachella school as an offensive stereotype.
Somehow, the earlier 1920s version of the school’s mascot on horseback as shown in Brett Kelman’s video report doesn’t arouse the same negative reaction in me.
However, as the mascot progressed, his headwear transformed from a Turkish Fez, popularized by the Ottoman Empire during World War I, to a more traditional Kaffiay, which is worn by many modern-day Arabs to this day in places such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
But fashion wasn’t the only change. The mascot’s face also began taking a more brutish look more similar to that of Disney’s Jafar than a real person.
One can’t help but wonder if the changes in the mascot’s appearance are more a reflection of our own changing American perspective on the Middle East than just one school’s approach. There is no doubt in my mind that geopolitical issues such as terrorism and human rights abuses have changed our view of Arabs, but before we go pointing fingers at one school, we should also reflect inwardly on our collective worldview.