Phillip Agnew, a newly appointed senior adviser for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, came under fire over the weekend over uncovered tweets from 2009 where he spoke despairingly about former First Lady, Michelle Obama.
In the tweets Agnew commented on Obama’s looks, while also touting conspiracy theories regarding America’s involvement in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City.
In one of the tweets from October 22, 2009 Agnew wrote, “Random thought while standing in Gas Station: Michelle Obama is an odd looking woman…I’d rather call her ugly but I don’t want the backlash…”
“Michelle Obama is just not pretty…I’ve tried to look at her from every angle possible…” he wrote in another tweet dated December 10, 2009.
Many of his tweets also touted sexist, misogynist ideals calling women who criticize him “man-hatin” and proclaiming excitement regarding the prospect of a program showing women in their lingerie.
“I am not my tweets from 2009,” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Still words have power to heal & to harm and I acknowledge and apologize for when my words harm. I’ve spent years speaking life and love into my community but I was wrong and I have to be accountable. Please take a moment to read my statement.”
Agnew began his statement saying that when he was 23-years-old in 2009, he tweeted “stupid comments about Michelle Obama.”
“I grew up socialized by false standards of beauty and success. And young, dumb Phillip spouted all manner of things that today I absolutely reject and regret.”
Near the end, he thanked his critics for holding him accountable and promised to continue growing and learning in the process.
While Agnew’s statement acknowledged his short-comings and growth, many wondered why it took him so long to address the comments he made, before they were publicly reveled on social media. Those claims did not help his case and questioned his genuineness and intent. Was he apologizing because he was caught or because he truly took the time to reflect the brevity of his words?
The 2020 presidential race has been a stomping ground for archaic principles and theories regarding smart, capable, women in power. With the exit of Senator Elizabeth Warren last week, cementing another field of straight, white, male presidential candidates, Agnew’s commentary from 11 years ago may have signaled his old ideals, but surely aligns with a large majority of how the country feels about women, Black women in particular.
Last week Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist, was called to the carpet after she criticized Nina Turner, a Bernie Sanders surrogate, for evoking the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during a segment on CNN. Rosen’s apology over their sparring incurred more damage after she sent out the following “apology.”
“I am sorry for saying those words,” Rosen wrote in a now-deleted tweet. “Pls no need to defend me and attack angry black women. They have standing. I always need to listen more than I talk. We rise together.”
The vitriol aimed at Turner and the usage of the term “angry black women,” spoke volumes.
Most importantly, we know Michelle Obama experienced an unfair amount of criticism stemming from anti-Blackness, colorism and misogynoir during her husband Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns in 2008 and 2012, including the first family’s eight years in the White House.