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It’s not the context…


American Orientalism is alive in Southern California, where Coachella Valley High School has really outdone itself:

The current mascot is based on an “angry Arab” design unveiled in the 1950s. The scowling face was meant to be a fearsome front for the football team, said Art Montoya, 74, one of the directors of the alumni association

But that was decades ago. The context of the design has faded, and it is easy to see why this unflattering “cartoon” character could be seen as offensive today, he said.

The Arab mascot is a mainstay at football games, joined by belly dancers during halftime shows. Murals on the high school buildings show an Arabian couple riding a book as if it were a magic carpet and a school logo flowing out of a genie’s lamp.

As with the Redskins nickname, there’s no “context” in which imagery like this could ever have made sense as anything other than a gesture of grotesque racism. The “context” that bred this particular iteration of the mascot was a decade in which white Americans were reading transparently racist novels like Leon Uris’ Exodus, which portrayed Arabs as foul-smelling, joyless miscreants — the “dregs of humanity” — who happened to be perched on culturally and economically valuable real estate. It’s depthlessly absurd to pretend that imagery like this evolved from any sense of “admiration” of or historical connection to Arab people, as the school’s principal contends, and it’s silly to pretend that replacing this odious caricature ought to be preceded by some kind of reasonable, measured community dialogue in which two equally-weighted perspectives are offered the chance to make their case. Longevity is a poor alibi for racist dipshittery.

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