Mother of 'Arab-Latina' Diversity Leader Unmasks Her Own Daughter with Career-Killing News
It wouldn’t be the first time a person has misrepresented their ethnic background for personal gain.
Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts famously claimed to be a Native American to give herself a leg up in her career. And the newly elected Republican congressman from New York, Rep. George Santos, claimed to be of Jewish descent.
“Raquel Saraswati” serves as the chief equity, inclusion, and culture officer at the American Friends Service Committee, a group which describes itself as an organization following the Quaker belief of “the divine light of each person” that “works with people of all faiths and backgrounds to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace.”
The Intercept reported that her AFSC colleagues suspect Saraswati has been lying about her ethnicity for years and “they fear may be working on behalf of groups seeking to undermine their organization.”
According to the report, Saraswati, a Muslim activist, has misrepresented herself as a person of color, claiming to be of Latina, South Asian and Arab descent.
Her mother, Carol Perone, has come forward to dispute her daughter’s claims. During a telephone interview, Perone told The Intercept that Saraswati was born Rachel Elizabeth Seidel and that rather than being a woman of color, she is of British, German, and Italian descent.
“I’m as white as the driven snow, and so is she. … I’m German and British, and her father was Calabrese Italian,” Perone said. “She’s chosen to live a lie, and I find that very, very sad.”
The Intercept reported that Perone shared “photos of Saraswati as a child” which she asked them not to publish. In the photos, “Saraswati’s complexion is significantly lighter than the bronzed look in more recent photographs.”
The media outlet confirmed with “another relative” that Saraswati is indeed white.
Perone said that Rachel converted to Islam in high school. She added, “I don’t know why she’s doing what she’s doing.”
The Intercept spoke to Oskar Pierre Castro, who served on the AFSC search committee that hired Saraswati. He said she claimed to be a “queer, Muslim, multiethnic woman.” He noted that, “It really touched all the points.”
Castro was “impressed by Saraswati’s credentials and charm.” He told The Intercept, “It seemed that there was an element of lived experience and understanding because of the lived experience, not just the academic and extra training that come with being in a position where you are an equity and inclusion practitioner.”
He added, “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.”
“I’m as white as the driven snow, so is she.”–mom says Rachel Elizabeth Seidel, who now goes by Raquel Evita Saraswati, has been living “a lie.”
Raquel/Rachel has #DEI job. HR was told that she’s “queer, Muslim, multiethnic woman.”#Hoax https://t.co/bYXwvy2KRi
— Beverly A. Pekala (@PekalaLaw) February 18, 2023
Asked for a comment on the story, AFSC representative Layne Mullett issued a statement that said, “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.”
That said, some AFSC members remain very worried. In an anonymous letter published on Medium last week, they expressed concern about Saraswati’s “possible hidden political agenda” and cited “her connections to conservative groups earlier in her career.” They also called for her to resign from the AFSC.
An AFSC leader, who wish to remain anonymous told The Intercept, “People are concerned. 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.”
This source pointed out that the AFSC “has a history of being infiltrated by the FBI and has frequently been attacked by pro-Israel groups for its work in solidarity with Palestinians.”
“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. And now all of a sudden, it’s a white woman with a right-wing history. It’s scary.”
It turns out that some individuals were aware of Saraswati’s true ethnicity long before this recent flap. In 2015, when it was reported that Rachel Dolezal, a former college instructor and then-president of the NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington, was actually a white woman who claimed to be black, Saraswati’s ethnic background was already known by some in the activist community.
In a Twitter post from that time, Al Jazeera’s Sana Saeed wrote: “Can we talk about ‘Raquel Dolezal’ in the Muslim community. Y’all know who I mean.”
Can we talk about ‘Raquel Dolezal’ in the Muslim community. Y’all know who I mean.
— Sana Saeed (@SanaSaeed) July 16, 2015
The Intercept noted, “By that point, Saraswati had built a public profile as a Muslim woman, often wearing a hijab and frequently making media appearances to discuss Islam. In 2007, Saraswati appeared on CNN with conservative commentator Glenn Beck, and also appeared on Fox News and the far-right channel Newsmax. In 2013, she also appeared in a film produced by the Clarion Project, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center said specialized in ‘rabidly anti-Muslim films.’ And she worked with the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, another group that has been accused of promoting Islamophobia.”
So what would account for Saraswati’s sudden embrace of progressive ideology? The anonymous AFSC leader believes it was the allure of the diversity, equity and inclusion industry.
He told The Intercept: “DEI is becoming a multibillion-dollar industry: corporations, companies, nonprofits. The data shows a tiny percentage of the directors are black. And now you have white people in brown face getting into DEI positions, with its salary, resources, and power.”
In an email to The Intercept, Saeed appeared to agree. She wrote that the current controversy over Saraswati “is an indictment of the diversity, equity, and inclusion industry’s shortcomings” and “puts a sharp, bright light on … the DEI industry itself — did AFSC not vet their candidates, like Raquel?”
She continued, “There’s long been a critique that companies & organizations use DEI as a shield against criticism of structural issues that continue to persist in the workplace; the people often hired in these positions are not qualified and will usually hurt, more than help, in redressing problems around inequities and exclusion. For the AFSC — known for its progressive values and history — to have hired such an individual is also a damning indictment of how superficial and detrimental, to safe and inclusive workplaces, DEI can often be.”
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