Divided Voices Weaken Fight Against Anti-Arab Bigotry
Sometime in the early 1900s, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reached out to the Arab world to obtain date shoots to begin date farming in the arid desert areas just outside Los Angeles.
The effort was successful and Coachella Valley dates today account for 95 percent of the sales of the two-dozen varieties of dates sold in the United States. In recent years, American-Arab companies have challenged that trend, expanding the importation of dates grown and harvested by Palestinians in Palestine.
But for most of the 20th century, Middle East dates originated from Coachella Valley, prompting the local community to commemorate the Arab heritage by naming towns, streets and regions in honor of Arabs with names including Mecca, Oasis and Arabia.
So why are we surprised that in the 1930s, a local high school in the Coachella Valley adopted the name "Arab" for its mascot?
The mascot name went unnoticed for most of its existence, although immediately after the terrorism of Sept. 11, 2001, Coachella High school considered, but decided against, changing the name in the face of rising anti-Arab sentiment.
The Arab mascot has been around for 83 years, without a major complaint from American-Arabs. However, last year, someone complained to the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee noting correctly the mascot image symbolized a stereotypical, ugly Arab face with a crooked nose and angry caricature facial features.
The school considered the complaint from ADC, but decided to keep the mascot name. School officials said they will consider adjusting mascot facial features to make it more appealing and less offensive.
They really didn't have to do anything, though. There are very few if any Arabs living in Coachella Valley. The majority population is Mexican-American. Since the 1991 Gulf War, Mexican-Americans have been among the largest number of volunteers enlisting to fight. Much anti-Arab hostility in recent years has traced to Hispanic military veterans.
No one would do a study of that trend, though, because no one in America wants to know the real results.
But why is it an issue today?
The issue of an "Ugly Arab" isn't new. In the1980s, novelty stores sold an "Ugly Arab" Halloween mask. Halloween is a children's holiday that has been distorted by religious fanatics as being a tribute to the devil. Many Muslim and Christian Arabs refuse to allow their children to participate in Halloween because of the alleged connection to the devil (shitton). That made the "Ugly Arab" mask even more offensive.
Yet, despite American Arab outrage, the "Ugly Arab" mask is still a big seller, especially after Sept. 11. American-Arabs have been ineffective in defending their rights.
So why should Coachella High school surrender to American Arab complaints now?
The civil rights group, ADC, is much weaker today than it ever was.
No one takes ADC seriously anymore because the fanatics have succeeded in vandalizing its public image. It's what the fanatics do best. Yet no other group comes close to defending American Arab rights better.
So much energy has been expended by the fanatics against ADC and other moderate Arabs over political issues, energy that if put in the right direction could achieve so much more.
That's the problem plaguing too many American Arab activists. They are dysfunctional, ineffective and divided. They are best known for their anger than for their effectiveness. They love to complain, but rarely organize around something positive. They know how to protest and tear down, but they don't know how to build. That's what happens when you have been the victim of racism for more than a century without any champion to defend your rights.
The problem of the Coachella "Ugly Arab" mascot is simple. If the mascot where an "Ugly Mexican," you can bet Mexicans across America would protest and even Congress and state governments would join in, even appropriating money to defend Mexican-American rights. The issue would be the same for blacks, Catholics, Italians, Jews and most other ethnic groups in America.
But not for the Arabs.
American-Arabs are an easy target, in a large part because we make ourselves an easy target. Arabs have always been excluded. We are excluded from the U.S. census, government grants, are routinely denied jobs and are victims of hate. Anti-Arab bigotry thrives in Hollywood movies, the book industry, television, and in the mainstream news media, which feeds and promotes anti-Arab discrimination.
With ADC on the verge of collapse, American-Arabs are left with a handful of organizations, most of which are incompetent and reflect the worst of Middle East tyranny, run by presidents-for-life and plagued by nepotism, lack of grassroots support and greed.
The American-Arab news media is crippled, dragged down by local battles and weaken by an exclusive focus on Middle East politics instead of American-Arab concerns. Most of the writing is opinion. There are very few quality features or objective news stories that tell Americans about who we really are.
We're not terrorists. But Arabs hate to admit their faults. They're never wrong. It's always someone else's fault.
American-Arabs need to spend more time cleaning up their backyards if they hope to overcome the bigotry.
We love to blame everyone else, except ourselves.
Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist for the Saudi Gazette and the managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania. To find out more about Ray Hanania and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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