Arab-Latina activist working as chief equity officer for progressive group is actually a white woman

There’s a lot more to this story than just the uncovering of another Rachel Dolezal. I’m not sure if the subtext was clear to the Intercept, who published this story today, but it’s pretty glaring to me.

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Members of the American Friends Service Committee, a prominent Quaker organization known for its progressive values and social justice advocacy in the U.S. and abroad, have raised an alarm about a woman holding a leadership position within the organization who they say has misrepresented her ethnic background for years and who they fear may be working on behalf of groups seeking to undermine their organization.

Raquel Evita Saraswati, a Muslim activist who for years has encouraged people to believe that she is a woman of color, including Latina as well as of South Asian and Arab descent, is the AFSC’s chief equity, inclusion, and culture officer, a senior position that gives her access to the files of dozens of the organization’s staff and volunteers. But Saraswati, who was born Rachel Elizabeth Seidel, is not a person of color, according to her mother, Carol Perone.

“I call her Rachel,” Perone told The Intercept, when reached by telephone. “I don’t know why she’s doing what she’s doing.”…

“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.”

Raquel/Rachel did convert to Islam in high school so that much of her identity is real. But the AFSC is now concerned that she may be some kind of double agent. It turns out that she got her start by appearing as a moderate Muslim on Fox News and Newsmax. That was more than a decade ago but some wonder if she didn’t take the equity officer job as part of an effort infiltrate a progressive organization.

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I guess anything is possible but all of that sounds a bit paranoid to me. The obvious question raised by this incident is how Rachel was able to get away with it. The Intercept notes that the DEI has become a big business very quickly and, as a result, the qualifications and backgrounds of people claiming jobs are sometimes not looked at as carefully as they should be. Sana Saeed, an Al Jazeera media critic, told the Intercept the hiring of Raquel/Rachel was “a damning indictment of how superficial and detrimental, to safe and inclusive workplaces, DEI can often be.”

I see something besides sloppiness at work here. Oskar Pierre Castro, who led the search committee to fill the DEI position, described how Raquel/Rachel seemed like an ideal candidate.

“It really touched all the points,” said Castro…

Castro 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.”

He feels conned because he was conned.

Raquel/Rachel presented exactly what he was looking for in a candidate. Saying she “touched all the points” is a nicer way of saying she checked all the boxes. Queer – check. Person of color – check. Muslim – check. Woman – check. If you think of intersectionality as a kind of progressive credit score, Raquel Evita Saraswati would have scored near the top thanks to her fake identity. If she’d just been a Muslim white woman, that wouldn’t have been quite as impressive. Maybe then they’d have taken a little more time thinking about her actual qualifications in that case. But as it was, she was simply too perfect to pass up.

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And to be fair, maybe the same could be said of Fox News and other outlets that had her on the air as a moderate Muslim critic of Islamic Extremism. She doesn’t seem to have been introduced as a woman of color in these clips, but I bet many viewers would have assumed as much based on her appearance. So maybe she used that to make herself more appealing to the right just as she’s now using it to make herself more appealing to the left.

There’s a suggestion in the Intercept story that Rachel needs to apologize for her past media life on conservative media. What is there to apologize for in this clip? Attacking Anjem Choudary as an extremist? The fact that members of the AFSC are just as worked up about her Fox News hits as her lying about her ethnicity suggests they don’t really have their priorities in order yet.

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David Strom 8:00 AM | July 25, 2024
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