The Chief Equity and Inclusion officer of a Philadelphia nonprofit resigned roughly two weeks after it was publicly revealed she had lied about her race.
Raquel Evita Saraswati worked for the American Friends Service Committee, a service organization founded by Quakers that assists with domestic and international social justice issues. Saraswati had publicly stated she is Arab, Hispanic and South Asian.
On Feb. 10, an open letter from supporters of the AFSC accused Saraswati of “cultural vulturism” and said “evidence has emerged” that “confirms” the senior leader is White. More specifically, her mother is of German ancestry and her father is of Italian descent.
“Saraswati has gone to great lengths to purge much of the public records that can correct her mistruths regarding her race and ethnicity,” the letter’s authors stated. “We hope that this will catalyze further truth-telling and accountability, particularly in light of the harms Saraswati’s lies have inflicted on communities of color that she purports to represent.”
The group offered evidence of its research, including a detailed family timeline, and said it confirmed the details with Saraswati’s family directly.
“Will the organization investigate why a member of its most senior leadership has so profoundly eroded trust among the people of color on staff and in the communities that the organization serves?” the letter’s authors asked.
According to the letter, Saraswati was born Rachel Elizabeth Seidel on Dec. 14, 1983. The group says she intentionally swapped her first name for “recognizable Latinx names” and her last name for a “recognizable South Asian name.”
Saraswati reportedly began identifying as a Catholic Latina with Arab ancestry while attending Simmons College (now Simmons University) in Boston. She wrote an article for Boho Magazine describing her family’s “Latinx background” and her social challenges at her majority-white university.
Sarawati converted to Islam in 2004 and married Anh Dao Kolb in 2005. Sarawati discussed her “Arab and Latin traditions” while discussing her marriage with The Boston Globe and India New England. The pair has since separated. Sarawati publicly identifies as queer and is active in LGBTQ advocacy.
“She established her public-facing career in conservative circles in a post-9-11 context rife with anti-Muslim bigotry and the search for token Muslim voices,” the AFSC letter stated.
Saraswati appeared on CNN in 2007 with Glenn Beck as a “moderate” Muslim. She has made appearances on Fox News and Newsmax to discuss Muslim extremism. She has reportedly worked with the American Islamic Forum for Democracy and Canadian feminist and author Irshad Manji.
In an appearance in the documentary film Honor Diaries, Saraswati said she has received threats of murder, rape and physical mutilation from Muslim extremists.
“An examination of her photographs, cross-referenced with our interviews with individuals who have known Saraswati personally over the years, reveal that the shades of bronzer she applies to her face have become darker over time,” the group wrote. “This parallels her political shift to the left as she entered the social justice world, rising up the progressive ranks, including the organization Family Equality, the City of Philadelphia Mayor’s Office and now as the head of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for AFSC, with its wide national and global reach.”
In 2015, Sana Saeed, a journalist for Al Jazeera, compared Saraswati to Rachel Dolezal – a white woman who claimed she was black.
After news of the letter broke, AFSC released a statement saying “Raquel stands by her identity” and is loyal to the organization’s mission.
“AFSC does not require any employee to ‘prove’ their heritage as a condition of their employment,” the organization said.
On Feb. 27, the AFSC confirmed that Saraswati has informed her employers she intends to “separate” from the organization.
The Delaware News Journal says the 39-year-old has locked her social media account and has not returned requests for comments.
“I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she,” Saraswati’s mother Carol Perone told The Intercept. “I call her Rachel. … I don’t know why she’s doing what she’s doing.”
“She’s chosen to live a lie, and I find that very, very sad,” Perone added.