A white diversity consultant who for years has pretended to be a "vegan, Muslim, queer feminist" used her false identity to cozy up to prominent Democrats, including former president Barack Obama.
Raquel Evita Saraswati came under fire last week after the Intercept reported she was born Rachel Elizabeth Seidel and was, according to her mother, "white as the driven snow." Sometime between Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, the transracial grifter deleted a Flickr album with photos of her posing with Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) and attending a White House event in 2016. The album also included screenshots of an invite Seidel received to a July 21, 2016, Eid al-Fitr reception at the Obama White House.
With the help of makeup and a headscarf, Seidel rose to prominence as an activist in the Philadelphia area. Philadelphia magazine named her "Liaison for the Marginalized" for her work as a "vegan, Muslim, queer feminist," and she served as a commissioner on Philadelphia Democratic mayor Jim Kenney’s Commission on LGBT Affairs from 2017 through 2021. Seidel's actions have earned her comparisons to Rachel Dolezal, a white woman and former NAACP chapter president who admitted to impersonating a black woman in 2015.
The Flickr album includes an undated selfie Seidel snapped with Tlaib, and a photo showing the activist alongside Omar and three unidentified individuals. The album also contained photos of Seidel speaking at a United Nations event, posing alongside former United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, and grinning alongside disgraced former MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry.
A human resources professional with the American Friends Service Committee, where Seidel has worked as chief equity, inclusion, and culture officer since 2021, told the Intercept that he felt deceived after reading an open letter penned on Feb. 10 by other employees at the group accusing her of lying about her racial heritage since 2004.
"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," said Oskar Pierre Castro, the American Friends Service Committee human resources professional. "I definitely feel conned. … I feel deceived."
Seidel’s mother, Carol Perone, confirmed that her daughter was living a lie in an interview with the Intercept last week.
"I call her Rachel. I don’t know why she’s doing what she’s doing," Perone said. "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."
A WordPress blog that calls Seidel a "postmodern performance artist and lesbian activist" published a photo showing the activist in 2008 with a notably paler skin complexion and without her headscarf.
The American Friends Service Committee told the Intercept it is giving Seidel the opportunity to address allegations that she’s a transracial grifter.
"We are in receipt of the documentation alleging that our Chief Equity, Inclusion, and Culture Officer, Raquel Saraswati, has been misrepresenting her identity," the statement said. "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," the statement added.
Seidel wrote on Facebook on Saturday that she was planning to address the allegations once she has taken "time to get where I can answer in a way that is most helpful and thorough."
Seidel did not return a request for comment.