Diversity leader at US NGO accused of lying about ethnic background

Diversity leader at US NGO accused of lying about ethnic background
2 min read
Washington, D.C.
27 February, 2023
A woman who has served in a leadership role at a US NGO has reportedly been outed as having misrepresented her background as Arab, Latina, and South Asian, raising concerns that she might be a mole.
Raquel Evita Saraswati, born Rachel Elizabeth Seidel, has reportedly been representing herself as a Muslim, queer woman of mixed-race heritage. [Getty]

A woman in a diversity leadership position at an NGO in Philadelphia has reportedly been outed by her family as not having a multi-ethnic background, as she had previously claimed.

Raquel Evita Saraswati, who claimed Arab, South Asian and Latin descent, was outed by her mother as having an entirely white European background, according to an article earlier this month in The Intercept.

Rachel Elizabeth Seidel, as she was originally named by her family, serves as the chief equity, inclusion and culture officer of the American Friends Service Committee. The progressive Quaker group advocates for a just, peaceful, and sustainable world free of violence, inequality, and oppression, according to its website.

"I call her Rachel," the NGO leader's mother, Carol Perone, told The Intercept in an interview. "I don't know why she’s doing what she's doing." Her mother added that the family's background is British, German and Italian, and not Arab, South Asian or Latin, as the NGO leader had claimed.

"I'm as white as the driven snow, and so is she," said Perone, who shared with the Intercept childhood photos of her daughter, which showed her to be noticeably lighter than her current complexion. She did confirm that her daughter converted to Islam in high school, but not long after she seemed to feel the need to take on other ethnic identities. 

Upon being hired at the NGO, Saraswati (or Seidel) reportedly presented herself as a queer, Muslim, multiracial woman, checking some of the key boxes for someone applying for the post.

Some are saying this is reminiscent of previous instances of white people pretending to have non-white backgrounds. Probably the most memorable case in recent years was that of Rachel Dolezal, a leader at the NAACP in the state of Washington, who was white but presented herself as Black. Other examples have included professors, students, activists and politicians.

What makes this case possibly more troubling for some observers, particularly those in left-wing activist circles, is the fact that Saraswati (or Seidel) has appeared on right-wing programmes, raising questions of ulterior motives. The suggestion of her being a right-wing mole was brought up in an anonymous letter published on Medium earlier this month, shortly before the publication of the Intercept piece.

Saraswati (or Seidel) no longer appears on her staff profile page of the American Friends Service Committee.