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  • First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles by Damien M. Sojoyner
  • Savannah Shange
Damien M. Sojoyner, First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2016. 266 pp.

In his first book, First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles, Damien Sojoyner delivers an extended critique of the School-to-Prison-Pipeline (STPP) model that has become hegemonic in both educational anthropology and carceral studies. Building on an intellectual genealogy of Black radicalism that begins with W.E.B. Du Bois and pours forth through St. Clair Drake, Clyde Woods, Beth Ritchie, and Ruthie Gilmore, Sojoyner disrupts the presumptive binary between schools and prisons by arguing that "counter to the pathway established by the School-to-Prison-Pipeline trajectory of schools funneling students into prisons, schools laid the foundation for the expansion of the prison regime in the United States" (35). First Strike establishes a framework for engaging what Erica Meiners (2007:32) calls the "nexus" between schools and prisons as a site of ongoing contestation and resistance, rather than a totalizing structure of neoliberal governance. In addition to his crucial theoretical intervention into scholarship on education and incarceration, Sojoyner also pushes on methodological conventions by privileging policy and history as sites of anthropological investigation, rather than elevating ethnographic narrative as the sole engine of analysis.

In lieu of the STPP, Sojoyner offers the theoretical frame of enclosure as a lens through which to view the relationship between schools and prisons. Beginning with the ubiquitous chain-link fences topped with barbed wire that cordon off high schools serving Black and Latinx communities in Los Angeles, Sojoyner expands the notion of enclosure to include any structural limitation of Black mobility and livelihood. In this sense, [End Page 443]

…enclosure is representative of social mechanisms that construct race, gender, class, and sexuality; and just as important as the imposition of the physical and unseen, enclosure embodies the removal/withdrawal/denial of services and programs that are key to the stability and long-term well-being of communities.


First Strike moves fluidly between these modes of captivity and rollback, focusing on one mode of enclosure in each chapter: cultural expression, ideology, penal discipline, gender, and academic education. County High School (CHS) is the central ethnographic site that grounds Sojoyner's analysis.

A cramped, deteriorating music classroom serves as the backdrop for the first chapter, "The Problem of Black Genius: Black Cultural Enclosures." In it, Sojoyner establishes Black high schools as a center of the Black arts movement in Southern California that incubated poets, musicians, and visual artists in the 1960s and 1970s. He then uses the polymathic genius of one student as a lens into the systematic dismantling of Black cultural education in Los Angeles schools through budget cuts and the elevation of white artistic norms. Even CHS's jazz program—which had been founded a generation prior to combat Eurocentric arts education—only taught the music of white musicians. In an unexpected move, Sojoyner roots the evisceration of a culturally relevant music curriculum in the spread of Western Christianity in the 16th century. Early Black liberation movements drew on the text of Bible as a justification for resistance, and thus the liturgical interpretation of scripture became a site for contesting the social distribution of power. Sojoyner details the dissonance between Protestant and Catholic responses to Black cultural expression. He then uses this disparity to highlight resistance among Anglo Southern planters to baptizing slaves due to the revolutionary potential of the church. Christianity becomes a locus of cultural enclosure in the mid-1800s when planters began mandating church attendance on plantations, where services were infused with messages of obedience, work ethic, and the promise of deferred happiness in heaven. The result of these coordinated efforts of religious and economic institutions was "the formation of an enclosure model that sought to stop dissent through rearticulating Black culture as both dangerous and against the will of God" (31).

Ideological enclosure is the focus of Chapter 2, "In the Belly of the Beast: Ideological Expansion." Sojoyner recounts the various ideological [End Page 444] positions occupied by CHS students vis-à-vis the state; while some of them bitterly complain...


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pp. 443-446
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