Muslim activist Raquel Evita Saraswati, who claimed to be a woman of color, was outed by her mother who said she is “white as the driven snow.”
Saraswati, 39, is the chief equity, inclusion and culture officer of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker organization that fights globally for peace and social justice.
According to members of the organization, Saraswati, whose birth name is Rachel Elizabeth Seidel, has been misrepresenting her ethnic background for years. The activist claimed to be of Latino, South Asian and Arab descent.
In an interview with The Intercept, her mother, Carol Perone, said Saraswati is actually of British, German and Italian descent.
“I call her Rachel,” she said. “I don’t know why she’s doing what she’s doing. I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she. I’m German and British, and her father was Calabrese Italian. She’s chosen to live a lie, and I find that very, very sad.”
According to Perone, her daughter converted to Islam in high school and at some point started presenting herself as being of a different ethnic identity.
Perone shared photos with The Intercept that show Saraswati as a child with a lighter complexion as compared to her bronzed complexion in more recent photographs.
Oskar Pierre Castro, a human resources official who helped AFSC hire Saraswati, said the activist presented herself as a “queer, Muslim, multiethnic woman.”
“In my mind it was, “Great, a person of color, a queer person of color, who happens to be a Muslim, it’s a woman,” all these things, and someone who seemed to get it. I definitely feel conned. I feel deceived,” she told The Intercept.
Layne Mullett, a spokesperson for the AFSC, released a statement to The Intercept to address the issue surrounding Saraswati’s identity.
We are in receipt of the documentation alleging that our Chief Equity, Inclusion, and Culture Officer, Raquel Saraswati, has been misrepresenting her identity. AFSC has given Raquel the opportunity to address the allegations against her, and Raquel stands by her identity. Raquel also assures us that she remains loyal to AFSC’s mission, which we firmly believe. AFSC does not require any employee to ‘prove’ their heritage as a condition of their employment, or in order to be valued as a member of our team.”
However, there are some AFSC members who have expressed concerns that the activist may have a hidden political agenda and is seeking to undermine the group.
“People are concerned,” a member of AFSC’s leadership told The Intercept. “There’s a fear that she could be an agent, because she started her career right-wing. She was a token Muslim voice in that milieu. She never publicly apologized.”
Some members claim that after 9/11, Saraswati appeared on right-wing TV shows, where she was described as a “moderate” Muslim critical of Islamic extremism.
“Imagine the trauma of people who confided in her, trusted her, and shared sensitive information about their work and about their lives, thinking that she’s a fellow person of color,” the AFSC leader said. “And now all of a sudden, it’s a white woman with a right-wing history. It’s scary.”
Although Saraswati did not respond to requests for comment from The Intercept, she wrote a statement on Facebook on Saturday.
I assure people that as soon as I am capable, I will provide answers to the recent discussion and attack on me. I understand all the reactions you’re having. I am currently taking the time to get to where I can answer in a way that is most helpful and thorough.