I recently decided to share the graphic that highlights some of the provisions from the SCALE Act from Back to Dixie with an online audience. Naturally, I expected a spirited discussion, but even I was surprised by the reaction. Watch my new Youtube video to find out why.
I posted a video where I pay tribute to the most influential writer in my life, Toni Morrison. She helped me find my authentic voice after it was misplaced for a bit. The video would be four hours long if I expressed all the ways her teachings have impacted me.
The climate described in the early chapters of Back to Dixie is strikingly similar to today’s America. In fact, the book mirrored our reality up until early 2021 when the first draft was completed. Consequently, the characters in Back to Dixie also experienced the rash of civil rights offenses and the meaningless deaths of so many innocent Black people—many by the hands of someone in a position of authority. They witnessed or participated in the marches and protests, as we did. They also waited for verdicts and sentencings, hoping that justice would prevail, but expecting the worse.
In the book, many were as fed up with the degree by which Black lives were devalued, as they were by the hesitance of the country’s leaders to acknowledge that systemic racism existed. So, it wasn’t a surprise that when democratic Pennsylvania Governor, Jim Weldon, announced his candidacy for president, vowing to purposefully address systemic racism, the Black community rallied behind him. In fact, if not for their overwhelming support, Weldon would have lost the 2020 elections to the incumbent Republican president. When the Democratic majority in the House grew in the 2022 elections, Weldon had the necessary support to pass the SCALE Act, signing it into law in February 2023. It became the single most impactful law for Black people since the Voting Rights in 1965.
Here is a summary of the key provisions of the SCALE Act of 2023:
Employment and Income
- Employers must adhere to strict compliance ranges for hiring, promotion, and compensation data across racial and gender lines.
- Employers reporting ‘out-of-range’ data for two consecutive quarters were subject to substantial tax penalties.
- A one-time interest-free loan of $50,000 was available to each Black or impoverished citizen. Repayment may be deferred orforgiven based on income.
- Universities and professional schools could no longer require the use of standardized test scores for admission or placement purposes.
- Schools must report diversity data for admission, student retention, and graduation rates and ensure additional resources be made available to higher risk students. Schools reporting ‘out-of-range’ for extended periods no longer qualified for federal financial aid.
- New education grants covered all expenses for qualified full-time students from underrepresented groups, including those in graduate and professional schools.
- Zero-interest mortgages were available to applicants from underrepresented groups. In the case of hardship, loan payments may be paused indefinitely without penalty.
- Housing subsidies representing up to $2,000 per month were paid to those citizens that decided to rent instead of owning a home. Amounts depended on family size and cost of living.
- The cases of nonviolent offenders were reviewed for transfer to newly funded and built rehabilitation and job training centers.
- Independent peer reviews were completed for all sentencing decisions involving prison.
- Funding for mentorship, job placement, and counseling programs for newly released inmates was earmarked.
- Medical students from underrepresented groups became eligible for a $50,000 annual stipend in exchange for committing to work five years in the community after graduating.
- Doctors working in underrepresented communities also received a $50,000 annual stipend. Registered nurses and other medical professionals in these areas received a $25,000 payment.
- Hospitals and clinics in these communities were eligible for subsidized purchase of medical equipment and supplies.
- Universal affordable health care
In Back to Dixie, SCALE was received well by many people, as the nation was called into action against systemic racism, and most people and businesses committed to supporting the substantial change that SCALE promised. Of course, there were also many detractors, mostly across party lines. Most of the opposition to the laws felt that the cost was too high, while some never believed that there was ever an issue with systemic racism in the first place. Nevertheless, the changes had the desired impact. In the five years after the law went into effect, gaps between whites and Blacks in employment, income, education, home ownership, and arrests were closed more substantively than during any similar period in the country’s history.
A surprising and unexpected development was that the law had a net positive impact on the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), with the economy fueled by the increased spending of the newly gainfully employed. More Black students were attending college and pursuing professional degrees than ever before, which directly increased the nation’s talent pool and intellectual property. More trained minds were working on the world’s problems like climate change and clean energy. By all objective assessments, the SCALE Act was a resounding success.
Could SCALE work just as well for real?
In this video, I share my inspiration for writing this book almost thirty years after originally coming up with the idea. I also share what I hope folks will leave with after reading.
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTtEcqdhVWE&t=133s
Race, politics, and religion. As a young corporate worker in the 90’s, I learned early on to steer clear from those subjects at work—very little could be gained, while risks were high. Because many people have strong opinions on these topics, it was easy for casual discussions to escalate into full blown arguments. Many avoided conversations involving anyone of the protected classes altogether. It took a great deal of commitment and determination to view everyone as ageless, raceless, genderless, agnostics with no political leanings, but people became good at it.
That was the case in the workplace of the 90’s and most of the 2000’s—right up until when Barack Obama decided to run for president. As his candidacy gained momentum and the possibility that the country could elect its first Black president became a more likely scenario, it became extremely difficult to avoid the topic of race anywhere in America. Everyone had an opinion and many felt compelled to share it.
Most Black people were supporters of Obama, and many proudly admitted that the foundation of their support was the fact that he was Black—and how historic his victory would be for the country. And though many white people supported Obama, his most vocal detractors used terms like socialist, communist, or foreigner when attacking him. Although, in private, some would admit to just not being entirely comfortable with the idea of a Black person calling the White House home. It was unavoidable that these discussions began to trickle into the workplace.
Less than a decade later, the climate has changed. Today, companies are expected to invest resources on diversity programs and employee forums to encourage dialogue around racism and equity issues, among other best practices. You might ask how did the thinking shift so dramatically and so quickly? My answer—politics and the power of social media. During this time, more Americans identified social media as their main source of news and information, and politicians and their support networks began to utilize it as a tool.
Fake and rented accounts, unsubstantiated ‘news’ reports, and Big Tech algorithms all contributed to a viral spread of misinformation. There have been many studies that show how negative articles and postings are much more widely forwarded and reposted than positive pieces. This results in volumes of negative articles and postings, most unfounded or inaccurate, flooding America’s feeds and inboxes. There are often so many instances of unsubstantiated reports being published by independent sources that they seem to corroborate with each other.
Previously marginalized extremists suddenly had a platform and a reach that never existed before. Their messages were fueled by social media misinformation intended to politically mobilize people with historically low voting rates. Though politicians have historically used America’s views on race to their benefit, the evolution of politics on social media brought it to a whole other level. The wheels were turned by the political machines, but things went further than most intended.
The steady stream of scenes and images of hate filling the television screen, newspapers, and social media feeds demonstrated just how racially charged the country had become. The solution, in my opinion, is for us to openly discuss our differences, so we can better understand each other. Because only then can we achieve the degree of empathy that this nation needs to get through these unprecedented times and come away better than ever.
When I first came up with the idea of Back to Dixie, I planned to publish it under the pen name, Nigel Light. I don’t recall exactly how I came up with that name, but with me just embarking in the corporate world, in the culture that existed at the time, I didn’t feel that I could write freely under my real name. I felt at the time that I would have subconsciously self-censored my writing to make it HR-safe in the event it was discovered by workfolk. Writing the book through that filter would have been very limiting. Instead, I decided that I would write under a pen name so I could maintain my artistic freedom.
I can’t say for sure why it took me so long to finally write the book. Work responsibilities and family commitments certainly played a role, but deep down there was also concern that readers would find the events creating the Back to Dixie world unrealistic and not feasible. Unfortunately, with everything we have witnessed in recent years, that is no longer a concern.
Someone recently read the book’s synopsis and reached out to tell me that he was tired of stories that emphasize our differences, and wants instead to read more stories where no one sees race, gender, sexual orientation, disability—where everyone is treated equally. I explained to him that I shared that dream, but it will only be a dream until we all can see, discuss, and respect our differences. I believe Back to Dixie is my contribution to that discussion.
To the mountaintop and back down again. We all know that the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 freed millions of slaves. But then it took almost 100 years before anything notable was done to address the cultural, economic, and psychological impact of the institution of slavery.
Pressure from the civil rights movement of the 50’s and 60’s led to the passing of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, in 1964 and 1965. It would be another half century before the SCALE Act is passed in 2023. I will detail the provisions of the SCALE Act in another post. Just know that it will be huge, effectively closing existing economic and societal gaps between the races.
After 2023, the underrepresented in America became more represented in all the right ways. Many others, though, were not happy that gaps that existed for centuries were being closed. To them, it was a loss of privilege. That resentment led to sweeping changes in voting rights, making millions of Black and brown people ineligible. In 2028, the newly elected leaders immediately repealed the SCALE Act, and then passed the most damning law ever written, the Workfare Act, in 2029.
Can the country recover?
In this excerpt from Chapter 16, Richie Amente finds out that he is the lucky recipient of two Blacks, courtesy of the Workfare Administration.
“We got two!” Richie Amente excitedly ran into the kitchen where his wife was making dinner. “Sherry, we got two Blacks!”
Sherry didn’t know what her husband was talking about at first. “Blacks? Wha?”
“The Workfare thing. They accepted our application, and we qualified for the new business subsidy. We get two of them 24 hours per day, seven days a week for a $1,000 a month!”
Sherry was surprised at the terms. “What do you mean 24/7? Where are they going to live? Here?”
“Honey, I told you. I am going to clean out the garage. Better yet, we will get them to clean out the garage and fix the place up for themselves. They can take some pride in it!” Richie didn’t care where or how they slept. He only cared about the dollars he could make with this cheap around the clock labor.
“How does it even work?” Sherry recalled her husband mentioning something about Workfare and labor, but it didn’t register with her. Richie always had the next great business idea every day, and she lost track years before.
“It’s simple. Think of the Blacks as cars… cars that we are leasing. The leasing company still owns them. We get to drive the shit out of them, especially if we get unlimited miles, and then turn them in for new model when the term runs out!”
“Richie, these are people we are talking about.” Sherry did not understand how such a thing could even be legal.
“Of course, I know that, Sherry. It’s an analogy. Now, if a car gets stolen or breaks down, they must give us a temporary replacement. Same thing here. Except, they don’t get stolen, they run away.”
“Yeah, they have this whole government division that tracks them down and retrains them if they skip out. If they run, they guarantee a replacement within five business days.”
“Richie, I don’t know… I don’t like it.” Sherry could not get over the fact that these were human beings being forced to live somewhere and do work that they did not choose to do.
“Sherry, I am maxed out as a one-man operation, and we can barely cover monthly expenses with my income. With the cheap labor, we can expand and really start to make some money. We can have the family we’ve always talked about. I… we deserve this break.” Richie pleaded.
When Richie submitted the Workfare application a month prior, he was not expecting to hear back so quickly, at least not with any good news. He felt it was too good to be true, but figured he would try anyway.
“Those poor people,” Sherry whispered, shaking her head.
The next morning, Richie and Sherry drove to the Fort David training center in Arlington, Virginia. They planned to be there the entire day. The email they received from the Workfare Administration Office included a detailed agenda. The day would begin with a compatibility consultation designed to match employers with the ward that best fit. When they arrived that morning, they waited in a line that was at least 20 people long, and that was just to wait for a meeting.
They finally called their names after about an hour and a half. They were escorted to an empty meeting room where they were seated and waited for the counselor to join them. The counselor, a young lady in her late twenties, joined them momentarily.
She walked in and introduced herself. “Hi. My name is Karen Phelps. I am your job match counselor.”
Richie was smiling ear to ear. “So glad to meet you. I am Richie Amente, and this is my wife, Sherry.” He shook her hand firmly and vigorously.
“Good to meet you, Ms. Phelps.” Sherry chimed in.
Karen connected her laptop to the projector and opened a file called, ‘Amente’. “Well, first, I think congratulations are in order. You are amongst the first group of private Workfare employers.”
“Thank you,” Richie said proudly. “We are really excited.”
“Excellent! Well, let’s get right down to business then, shall we?” She said as she opened the skill requirements form from Richie’s application. “You wanted two people to handle physical landscaping work, with good communication and customer service skills.”
“Yes, to work with clients and telephone work,” Richie added.
“Okay, this is Garth Johnson.” She brings up a picture of a Black man in his early forties. It is a full body shot, and he is only wearing his underwear.
Sherry gasped. “Where are his clothes.”
“They can wear anything you want them to. With these full body shots, you can get a better idea of their physical condition and strength. We find it very helpful for positions requiring physical exertion as yours does.”
“Makes sense to me. I can see this one is strong enough to do anything we would need. What else can you tell us about him?” Richie stared at the man who would live at his home and work with him all day.
“This is why this is a great match. Garth was the groundskeeper for a public golf course for the past ten years.”
“That’s great. How is he personality-wise?” Richie loved what he heard so far, but was cautious to not just accept anyone. After all, they would be living with him and his wife.
“He is a quiet, but serious man. He is mature, so less chance of any shenanigans. He wants to do a good job, complete his Workfare training, and move on. He isn’t the type to cause trouble.”
“Has he been in trouble with the law? Any criminal record we should know about?” Richie was going through the mental checklist he made.
“No, no criminal record. Stable employment and no trouble. We feel he is a perfect fit.”
“Okay, I like what I have heard and agree. What about the second one?” He asked.
In this excerpt, Sheila decides to register for Workfare instead of heeding the warnings of her son, Michael.
“Mom, the whole focus of my work right now is to stop Black people from registering for Workfare, and get them to safety.” Michael was desperately trying to convince his mother not to go and register for Workfare. “There is no way I will let my own mother do this.”
“Son, you don’t have to worry about me. It’ll be fine. My position is a government job, and we are on the exempt list. I have all the documentation I need. Remember, your mother is nobody’s fool.”
“I know that, believe me. But I also know this president is wicked and racist, and this is his program… his baby. I watched them drag people away all day, every day. I also heard that they treat people bad in those Workfare Centers – overcrowded and filthy. It doesn’t look like they are doing any training in those places. Just stuffing people and storing them like animals.”
“And where are you hearing this from? Those REACH people? Who are they really, anyway? You sure they don’t have a secret agenda or something?” Sheila asked skeptically.
“They are a whole organization of people who understand what Earl and his Workfare program really means for Black people. They are only confirming what I have been saying this whole time. This is do or die time for Black people, Mom.”
“Michael, I know you worried, but I am gonna be alright. I just need to go down and get my registration card tomorrow.”
“Well, I already see that I can’t talk you out of it. At least let me go down there with you, just in case.” Michael had enough of these discussions with his mother over the years to know exactly when continuing to debate would be fruitless.
“Alright, since you don’t have anything better to do with your day, I am leaving work around 2:00 and heading straight there afterwards.” Sheila also knew if Michael made up his mind to come, he would anyway. “You staying for dinner?”
“Staying for dinner? What? I came here for dinner!” Michael laughing as he begins washing his hands over the kitchen sink.
“Well, help yourself. I just took the meatloaf out of the oven. It’s still hot.” Sheila enjoyed cooking for friends and family, but took particular joy in feeding Michael any chance she could get. She frequently commented on how thin he was looking, and would always ask, ‘Are you eating alright, boy?’
“Yes, ma’am. I see you added the scotch bonnet peppers, too!” Michael noted as he excitedly cut into the meatloaf.
“Yeah, it’s now a standard part of the recipe. I got to warn people, though, that it’s a little spicy!”
“Mmmmmm! Yeah, that extra spice just takes it over the top!” Michael takes a bite and savors it. “I have been dreaming about this for a minute.”
The next day after work, Sheila waited near the registration table for Michael. She decides to text him. ‘About to register. You still coming?’
Michael immediately responded. ‘Almost there. Traffic thick.’
Sheila stood and waited for five more minutes and then responded. ‘Going to register now. It will be fine. See you when you get here.’
‘I am almost there, Mom. Just wait.’ Sheila did not see that last text as she started her walk to the registration tables. There were no lines at that moment, and she was able to sit down at a table across from a young female Workfare Administration processor. She gave another glance to see if Michael made it. Nothing.
“Hello.” The Workfare processor greeted Sheila with a bright smile on her face. “Can I see your driver’s license please?”
“Hello, and yes.” Sheila reached into her bag for her wallet and packet of documents. She handed her the driver’s license. “I have all my documents right here.”
“Thank you, ma’am. One second.” The processor busily typed Sheila’s information into the computer. “Let’s see what we have here.”
Sheila opened the packet and pulled out a letter from her boss on State of New York letterhead. She handed it over to the processor. “This right here shows that my position exempts me from Workfare.”
The processor took the letter from her, and with her eyes already refixed to the computer screen, just placed it on the table in front of her. “Let’s see what we have here.” She repeats, clicking a few keys.
“Okay, I do see where you have an assignment request with the Motor Vehicles Department, but it doesn’t say that you are exempt from the training program. Let me see here.” She continued to type and stare at the screen. Sheila, on the other hand, was starting to feel restless, and perhaps a bit less confident than when she spoke with Michael.
“What do you mean?” Sheila asked, tired of her staring at the screen and typing.
“Can I see that letter again?” The processor asked.
“Of course.” Sheila handed the letter over, regaining a bit of the confidence she lost.
The processor looked at the letter and the screen, and then back at the letter. “I am sorry, but I will need to call my manager over. I haven’t handled one of these cases before.” She got up and walked over to another lady at an adjacent table. As they sat typing in her information and whispering while they stared at the screen, Sheila Dobson wore a look of deep concern on her face, her heartbeat getting louder and faster with each moment. After several minutes that seemed like an hour, both women came over to the table.
“I finally figured out what the story is, with my manager’s help, of course!” She smiled, looking back to her manager, who returned the smile. She continued, “Although you do work for a State in an exempt position, you are required to participate in the training program because you are a recipient of government assistance. I…”
Sheila interrupted. “What do you mean government assistance? I have worked for the State for 30 years!” She raised her voice in anger.
“You received mortgage assistance as part of the SCALE program, and still owe over two hundred thousand dollars on the loan. SCALE recipients are specifically qualified in section 296 of the Workfare Act.”
“This is crazy. You are crazy. I am paying my mortgage every month with the salary that I earn. That is not assistance.” Sheila’s loudness drew the attention of the WAs, and two began walking over. “Check it again.”
“I did, ma’am. And my manager did as well. You have to complete the training program, but you do have a preferred assignment back to your government agency.” The processor explained in a tone so matter-of-factly that it only made Sheila’s responses sound angrier than they were.
“Are you the manager? Can you read the letter from the Director of the Motor Vehicles department stating my position is exempt and that I am essential to the operation? What about that?” She pleaded to review the case for any appeal or review process. Anything that would put her life back in order.
“We did review that. Unfortunately, the director has no jurisdiction over the laws and the Administration’s procedures. You can file an appeal with the Administration. However, you must do so from within the training program.”
“I have a job. Can’t you read? Why would I need training to do my own job? A job I have been doing for 30 years!” She caught herself yelling, and toned her voice down midway through. “I don’t need no training.”
“Ma’am, I didn’t create the laws. I just have to follow them. Unfortunately, you do as well.” She nodded at the WAs who stepped closer to Sheila.
Sheila saw this and eyed her chance to exit the situation. She collected her documents and began to stand. “I have to talk to my boss and figure out what we can do. I will be back.”
“Sorry ma’am, but you have to come with us.” A WA grabbed her arm on either side. She violently pulled her arm away from them, but they just grabbed her again, only more firmly. They began to lead her towards the building.
“Get your hands off me! Stop! Help!” She screams as she felt her feet no longer on the ground. No longer in control of her movements.
At the same moment, Michael hurriedly parked his car, looking ahead towards the registration tables. He recognized his mother just as the WA grabbed her. Michael was about 50 yards away from them, but covered it quickly. He sprinted full bore to his mother as they carried her away against her will…