Raquel Saraswati AFSC inclusion director outed as being white as renewed questions are raised about her actual heritage, identity and political mandate as distrust leads to open letter for her resignation.
Who exactly is Raquel Evita Saraswati? An executive ‘inclusion’ director at a Philadelphia based diversity group, claiming to be of multi-cultural heritage, including Latin, South Asian and Arab descent has been exposed as really just being a white woman, according to the woman’s own bewildered mother.
The outing has now led to Raquel Saraswati‘s colleagues at the American Friends Service Committee demanding to know whether she is in fact an infiltrator, actively undermining their work.
AFSC colleagues suspect Saraswati has been lying about her ethnicity for years and fear she may be working on behalf of groups seeking to bring down their organization.
‘I definitely feel conned. I feel deceived,’ said Oskar Pierre Castro, a human resources professional who participated in the search committee to fill Saraswati’s position, speaking to The Intercept.
According to its website, the American Friends Service Committee 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.’
AFSC director resigns amid claims of living a lie
An open letter from ‘a group of individuals who care deeply about AFSC’ provided an in-depth analysis of her ancestry and her work, and expressed concern about her role.
They accused the 39-year-old – who converted to Islam in high school, and later coming out as gay – of ‘cultural vulturism’, and noted ‘the shades of bronzer she applies to her face have become darker over time’.
The authors called on AFSC to investigate ‘why a member of its most senior leadership has so profoundly eroded trust among people of color’.
They noted her appearance on conservative-hosted shows, and asked: ‘Are there external entities with whom Saraswati is collaborating?’
Saraswati’s case is being likened to that of Rachel Dolezal, a white woman, who in 2015 was exposed as having posed for years as black, rising to become president of an NAACP chapter in Spokane, Washington.
Mark Graham, AFSC’s chief marketing and communications officer, said the organization ‘has given Raquel the opportunity to address the allegations against her, and Raquel stands by her identity.’
He added: ‘Raquel also assures us that she remains loyal to AFSC’s mission, which we firmly believe.’
@joyce_afsc please fire “Raquel Evita Saraswati”. She is a racist, troubled, culture vulture who is an attention seeker that does not care about harming all the ethnicities, races and religions she stole. Please do not make AFSC complicit to her crimes. FIRE HER! pic.twitter.com/PTA2fuu1A8
— SailorMoonLight (@SailorHoe100) February 19, 2023
Will AFSC director be forced to resign?
The entity stipulates it 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.
Saraswati’s identity was first questioned by media commentator Sana Saeed, who tweeted in 2015: ‘Can we talk about ‘Raquel Dolezal’ in the Muslim community. Y’all know who I mean.’
It was soon after Medium publishing an open letter questioning Saraswati’s identity and mandate that The Intercept spoke to Saraswati’s mother, Carol Perone, who confirmed her daughter was not a person of color.
‘I call her Rachel,’ said Perone. ‘I don’t know why she’s doing what she’s doing.’
Perone said her daughter is of British, German, and Italian descent — not Latin, South Asian, or Arab.
Frequent guest on conservative programs pushing back on Islam
‘I’m as white as the driven snow and so is she,’ the mother said.
Perone said her daughter converted to Islam in high school, which likely informed her decision to present herself as another ethnicity.
‘I’m German and British, and her father was Calabrese Italian,’ her mother added.
‘She’s chosen to live a lie, and I find that very, very sad.’
Speaking to conservative media host Glenn Beck in 2007, Saraswati said she was ‘estranged’ from her family, ‘for other reasons that I can’t get into.’
Of note, Saraswati has appeared on other conservative programs including FOX News (see above) and far right platform, NewsMax (see below) where she has seemingly pushed back on what she decried as extreme Muslim behavior following attacks on Hebdo in Paris following allegations of anti Muslim bias.
Saraswati was born in Paterson, New Jersey and spend large amounts of time in Windham, where she attended school before being sent to boarding school in Troy, New York.
The woman went on to study at Simmons University in Boston, settling in Massachusetts and marrying her girlfriend, Anh Dao Kolbe in 2005.
In 2004, the couple was mentioned in a Boston Globe feature, in which Saraswati went by the name Seidel and said she was of Arab and Latin descent.
From white woman to multi-cultural woman
‘Raquel Evita Seidel, 20, of Brookline, said she and her girlfriend, Anh Dao Kolbe, have been together nine months,’ the author wrote.
‘While they are confident they want to marry, they also want to take the time to plan something that respects Seidel’s Arab and Latin traditions and 33-year-old Kolbe’s Vietnamese traditions. ‘We want it to be something special, not about hype and not about media,’ Seidel said.’
It was during this time that Raquel changed her surname to Saraswati. In 2005, she was performing belly dances under her new name.
Her wedding was featured in an article about Indian-American marriages.
The couple are now divorced, with Saraswati moving from Massachusetts to Pennsylvania, where she now lives.
She took on a higher profile after 9/11, appearing on Beck’s show and in a 2013 film produced by the Clarion Project, an organization the Southern Poverty Law Center said specialized in ‘rabidly anti-Muslim films.’
She worked with the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, another group that has been accused of promoting Islamophobia.
In 2017, Raquel told Philly Mag: ‘All too often, progressive and well-meaning people ally with organizations and individuals in marginalized or targeted communities without consulting those on the margins of those communities — like LGBTQ2SIA people, dissidents, women, minority sects, racial and ethnic minorities, etc.’
On her Facebook page, she promotes a book entitled: ‘All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep’.
UPDATE 2: “Raquel Saraswati” aka Rachel Elizabeth Seidel just deleted her statement and went private. She’s having a meltdown because her relatives confirmed she’s white. pic.twitter.com/WKxlrAVqTU
— Fifty Shades of Whey (@davenewworld_2) February 18, 2023
Someone who seemed to get it?
When Saraswati applied for the job at AFSC, Castro said that her ethnicity played a part in the decision to appoint her in June 2021 as Chief Equity, Inclusion and Culture Officer.
‘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,’ Castro told The Intercept.
He said he was impressed by her resume and her charisma.
‘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 said.
The AFSC has a history of being infiltrated by the FBI, The Intercept noted, and has been targeted by pro-Israel groups due to its work on the Palestinian cause.
Supporters of the AFSC told The Intercept they are now concerned about Saraswati, given the misleading statements she made about her identity.
‘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, an AFSC leader.
‘And now all of a sudden, it’s a white woman with a right-wing history. It’s scary.’