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Back to Dixie is a Social Thriller

I classify Back to Dixie’s genre as a social thriller.  It’s a relatively new term that’s mostly used in the film industry to describe movies like Get Out by Jordan Peele.  If you search for  ‘social thriller genre’ in Wikipedia, it defines social thriller as a film genre using elements of suspense and horror to augment instances of oppression in society.  Peele told the Chicago Tribune the he defines social thrillers as thriller/horror movies where the ultimate villain is society.  Peele is also quoted as saying about Get Out, “I was trying to figure out what genre this movie was, and horror didn’t quite do it. Psychological thriller didn’t do it, and so I thought, Social thriller. I think I coined the term social thriller, but I definitely didn’t invent it.”  

In Get Out, the monster is a society that bred such an overweight sense of superiority in the white elite that they justify stealing young Black men’s lives to extend or improve theirs.  Seeing how easily the privileged discarded minds and souls to harvest bodies conjured up strong and raw emotions that were more terrifying because of the movie’s realness.  Get Out’s ‘monsters’ seem familiar to us because we recognize an old boss, politician, television personality, or college professor in the characters.  The fact that the villain wasn’t an alien or supernatural force, but regular everyday people instead, added a realistic texture to the experience that totally engulfed us.  While watching, I found myself imagining that a doctor somewhere may actually be able to perform such an operation.  And then you consider that if the science is out there, surely members of society’s  elite would want to take advantage of it. That small slither of a possibility makes the movie that much more horrifying.  That is the main characteristic of a well-made social thriller.

Before learning about the social thriller genre, I had the challenging task of specifically classifying Back to Dixie.  I mean it clearly fits under the thriller umbrella, which Wikipedia defines as ‘a genre of fiction, having numerous, often overlapping subgenres. Thrillers are characterized and defined by the moods they elicit, giving viewers heightened feelings of suspense, excitement, surprise, anticipation or anxiety.’  However, the thriller genre is very broad and diverse – including political thrillers, psychological thrillers, action thrillers, crime thrillers, legal thrillers and more.  You can’t just call a book a thriller and expect its readers to know what to expect when reading it, as you could with some other genres like horror and  science fiction. Of the classic thriller subgenres, I thought political thriller sort of fit.  However, I felt that readers would expect politics to be the central theme of the book, instead of being used as a vehicle to transition the country’s laws to greatly widen the racial divide.  It was the how, but not the what.  After watching Get Out and later coming across Peele’s explanation of the social thriller genre, I finally had the term for Back to Dixie.

As in the case in Get Out, the villains in Back to Dixie are powerful people who lose their moral compass somewhere along the way.  In Peele’s movie, the elite are motivated to commit these acts by greed for better health – curing blindness, combating illness, or delaying death.  In Back to Dixie, the motivation is greed for wealth, power, and to exercise racial superiority.  The villains  don’t use a lobotomy operation to steal the bodies of Black people.  Instead, the elite use their influence to pass laws that accomplish the same goal – first by removing voting rights and other civil rights from the nation’s Black citizens, and then by forcing them to work for no pay and be exploited for financial rewards.   

The book introduces a set of events that alters the climate in the country in such a realistic manner that it makes readers question whether such a devastating thing could happen in real life.  This, I believe, is the most important attribute of a social thriller – delivering the rationale and logical steps that build a bridge to realistically transition the reader from the real world to the one needed to tell the story.  When readers say that they found it so horrifying because they could see the events that led to the passing of the National Workfare Act actually happening, I know that I am correct in classifying Back to Dixie as a social thriller.

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Q&A with Back to Dixie author, Len Hyde

What is your book, Back to Dixie, about?

Back to Dixie explores how a government’s race policies can either uplift or oppress, as experienced through the lives of everyday Black people over 10 tumultuous years when the political pendulum swung far left to extreme right. In the early chapters of the book, the administration is unapologetically progressive, with some labeling them as liberal and even socialists.  They were remembered for passing the SCALE Act for Social Justice in 2023, making good on a campaign promise to address systemic racism as a top priority. 

SCALE was widely considered to be the most positively impactful laws for Black Americans since the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  Because of this, though, it had many passionate opponents who quickly repealed it when they came into power later on in the story.  The new administration also passed laws removing key voting and civil rights from many Black and poor people, and in 2029, they signed the National Workfare Act into law.

Under the guise of job training, the government rounded up millions of the country’s citizens, stripping them of their freedom and forcing them to work long and hard only to survive – their lives demonstrated to mean little.  Michael Dobson and his friends Devin Thomas and Odessa Bradford risk everything in an attempt to save their family and loved ones from the clutches of Workfare, and find a way to be free once more.

That is both frightening and intriguing.  Where did you get the idea?

The idea of Back to Dixie came in the nineties when an urban legend ran rampant in Black communities.  It said that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 only temporarily gave Black people the right to vote, and would need to be extended by Congress in 2008.  If not extended, Black people would no longer enjoy the privilege of voting.

Though I found out that it was just a rumor, the story idea was so compelling that I knew I would have to write the book one day.  I just didn’t know that it would be almost 25 years later! 

Were you influenced by recent events in writing Back to Dixie?

Back to Dixie’s dedication reads, ‘For those with no voice, but truths to tell.’  That’s there because I didn’t have room on the page to list the names of all those whose voices are forever silenced by racism.  The deaths, the marches, the arrests, the acquittals, and the reactions certainly influenced me to finally write a book I’ve only dreamt about for so long. 

I hope the story serves as a reminder of the kind of damage that the disease of racism can cause if left to fester and grow.  I would be thrilled if it becomes a part of a wakeup call for society, providing another reminder of the importance of valuing each other, especially those who are different—that is the way we all win. 

Who is the book for?

The book is for everybody…  Black, White, Hispanic, Asian, any race.  Liberal, conservative, progressive, any political party.  It’s for people who believe systemic racism is one of the country’s biggest problems, just as much as it is for those who don’t think it’s a real thing.

Ultimately, I want Back to Dixie to be part of a conversation on American race relations that needs to happen more and more throughout the country. 

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Fictional Presidents of Back to Dixie

Back to Dixie explores the dramatic impact that politicians and corporations have on America’s race relations through the eyes of everyday people. The novel covers a period of 10 years and the administrations of two very different presidents.

In the early chapters, President Jim Weldon passes the SCALE Act for Social Justice in an attempt to address the systemic racism issue. Later in the book, President Willie Earl revokes the voting rights of many Black and poor citizens and passes the National Workfare Act in 2029. Workfare, originally described as a job training and betterent program, would later be compared to modern-day slavery.

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How a Back to Dixie law sparked political outrage online

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.

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Toni Morrison helped me find my authentic voice

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.

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New Youtube Video

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

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Can we talk RACE

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.

Sincerely,

Nigel Light

Len Hyde

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Back to Dixie Timeline

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?

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BTD Excerpt: Workfare in Action

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.”

“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.

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Workfare Registration

When the National Workfare Act passes in 2029, many of the nation’s Black and poor citizens will be forced to register at one of the many centers set up throughout the country. Stripped of most rights, they will be sent far away from home and made to live in crowded spaces under inhumane conditions–working long and hard just to survive.