The Black White Supremacist
By PAUL TOUGH
I recently went to visit Felton in prison in Massachusetts (the only time we met face to face over the course of several months of conversation by phone), and we talked for half an hour through an inch-thick slice of Plexiglas, each of us with a phone held up to an ear. Felton is a lean, tall, imposing man with tattoos up and down each arm and the word ‘‘skinhead’’ inked into his shaved scalp in inch-high Gothic letters. His gaze was intent, and his vivid, expressive face shifted rapidly from humor to anger and back again; his voice was loud and deep, and his speech carried within it all the contradictions of the jailhouse autodidact. He swore frequently, turning venomous when talking about the ‘‘maggots’’ guarding the maximum-security wing of the prison where he was being held. But when our conversation shifted to politics or books or an article he had enjoyed in the latest New Yorker, his vocabulary blossomed with words like ‘‘aegis’’ and ‘‘Weltanschauung’’ and references to Dostoevsky.
If you know Leo Felton’s story, it is difficult, when you first meet him, to concentrate on anything other than his appearance. It’s not just the tattoos. He has spent many years devoted to the idea of racial separation, to the belief that Americans should be divided by the color of their skin. But his own appearance is hard to define. His skin is olive-colored. His features are angular. It’s not hard to believe what he wrote in a letter to a racist friend just before he got out of prison, that he is ‘’ 1/4 English and 3/4 Italian.’’
But, in fact, he is the product of a short-lived and idealistic late-60’s marriage between a white former nun named Corinne Vincelette and a black architect named Calvin Felton. That is Leo Felton’s biological reality, despite his elaborate attempt, over the last decade, to rebel against it. It is a reality that he blames for many of the wrong turns that his life has taken, a reality that he successfully shielded from his brothers in the movement for years, a reality that only now, back in prison, is he trying to understand in a new way.
Leo Felton’s parents didn’t stay married long. They divorced when he was 2 years old, and Leo, born in 1970, was the only child they had together. His father had previously been married to a black woman, so Leo had five black half-brothers and two black half-sisters. After his parents’ divorce, Leo’s mother became a lesbian. Leo and his mother moved in with her girlfriend, a feminist author, and her children, thus creating perhaps the only family in the comfortable, mostly white suburb of Gaithersburg, Md., that had two white mothers, two white daughters and a biracial son.
Corinne Vincelette had grown up in a strict Catholic household. She became a nun at the age of 19, in 1950, and spent 17 years as a sister – and then in the space of just a couple of years she left the convent, left the church, married, had a son and came out as a lesbian. According to Felton, she ‘‘just wasn’t equipped to handle things’’ back then, but to his mother, it was a thrilling time. She was excited about her new life, about all of the boundaries she and Leo were crossing together, and she wanted him to be excited too.
According to a psychologist’s report prepared before his sentencing, Felton now sees himself as his mother’s ‘‘social experiment,’’ a physical manifestation of ‘‘her liberal, socially progressive views about race in society.’’ If that’s true, it was, for Felton at least, an experiment that failed. Felton says that his family stuck out in the neighborhood, and he was constantly getting into fights with kids who teased him about his mother’s girlfriend or his absent black father
Rest of story…
NY Times-need to subscribe.
What happened to this guy? Lots of biracial kids hae problems, lots don’t. Most chose what side of the fence to be on, others get no choice. But this…?
Who says Race isn’t a social construct?