Is Being Biracial an Advantage for Obama?

Senator's mixed background may help him tackle race issues, some say.

ByABC News
March 20, 2008, 3:42 PM

March 21, 2008 — -- The son of a black man and a white woman, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., says he's seen and heard it all.

From his grandmother's fear of black men on the street to his former pastor's perceived anti-American rants, Obama said Tuesday that after a lifetime straddling the line between black and white he remains hopeful that a "more perfect union" is, in fact, possible.

Several biracial individuals with similar backgrounds agreed that living both sides of the racial experience may offer an unique perspective on bridging the racial divide.

"All of us who have those experiences are given the gift of a life lesson in bridging artificial divisions to arrive at common hopes and values," said Lise Funderburg who is biracial and the author of "Black, White, Other: Biracial Americans Talk About Race and Identity."

"All of us who have that background have the opportunity to make this positive thing out of it, and Obama has seized that opportunity," Funderburg said.

But not everyone was certain Obama's views and motives were were so clear cut. Biracial writer Shelby Steele told that he thinks Obama's use of his background was "disingenuous." He believes the ruminations about mixed heritage show Obama to be not an expert but rather a man confused about his racial identity.

"Obama is a black man with a white mother. Being biracial is an impossibility," said Steele, who said that no matter what, when Obama walks down the street he is viewed as a black man. "How could you possibly live as both? If you didn't know his mother was white, you'd say he's black and you wouldn't have a second thought."

"He's confused," said Steele of Obama. "Are you really black or are you playing the biracial card?"

Henry Louis Gates Jr., professor and director of the WEB Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, is considered one of the country's leading black intellectuals and he believes politics was the major motivation at play in the Tuesday appeal.