Transracial Adoption Can Provide a Loving Family and an Identity Struggle

Black children in white families try to find their place in society.

ByABC News
February 22, 2010, 6:23 PM

March 3, 2010— -- They are images of joy, images of happy endings among so much tragedy.

A few days ago, Duke and Lisa Scoppa adopted two Haitian orphans, 4-year-old Erickson and 4-month old Therline.

"I just always felt like it would be a really enriching experience for us and for everybody involved, really," Lisa Scoppa said.

Among the things that lie ahead for the Haitian children adopted by white American parents are a better life materially and a chance to grow up in a loving family.

But some black children who were adopted by white parents say there's another side of the story.

"I didn't feel like I was seen or understood," saidPhil Bertelsen, who was 4 when he was adopted by a white family and then raised in a mostly white New Jersey suburb.

Bertelsen and other black adoptees tell a similar tale: They felt estranged from the people around them who they instinctively knew from an early age were different from them, and yet cut off from their own racial identity and culture.

"In my teens, I became hungry to be a part of some kind of black community, black identity," Bertelsen said. "What was missed primarily was, you know, strong familiar representations of black life other than the ones I was getting through popular culture and otherwise."

He grew up to be a documentary filmmaker and made his first movie, "Outside Looking In," about transracial adoption. In it, he confronts his own parents for the first time.

"Ultimately, I am a part of your family," he told them in the film. "I use my name with pride. But I am also an African-American in your family and, you know, you have to see me as that."

In response, his mother said softly, "Maybe we were naive. Maybe we were. I don't know."

Bertelsen said in an interview that adoptees "don't tend to want to shake the tree too much. I call it the gratitude complex. We finally get this family, whomever they are, that we can call our own and so we adjust, we adapt, we learn to go along and get along and that's what I did."