Joy and Pain: A Story of Black Life and Liberation in Five Albums
A poignant account of how the carceral state shapes daily life for young Black people—and how Black Americans resist, find joy, and cultivate new visions for the future.
At the Southern California Library—a community organization and an archive of radical and progressive movements—the author meets a young man, Marley. In telling Marley’s story, Damien M. Sojoyner depicts the overwhelming nature of Black precarity in the twenty‑first century through the lenses of housing, education, health care, social services, and juvenile detention. But Black life is not defined by precarity; it embraces social visions of radical freedom that allow the pursuit of a life of joy beyond systems of oppression.
Structured as a “record collection” of five “albums,” this innovative book relates Marley’s personal encounters with everyday aspects of the carceral state through an ethnographic A side and offers deeper context through an anthropological and archival B side. In Joy and Pain, Marley’s experiences at the intersection of history and the contemporary political moment invite us to imagine more expansive futures.
About the Author
Damien M. Sojoyner is Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. He is the author of First Strike: Educational Enclosures in Black Los Angeles.
Praise for Joy and Pain: A Story of Black Life and Liberation in Five Albums
"Lively discussions of Black musicians including Ice Cube and Kendrick Lamar pepper the narrative, as do deep dives into the tactics and strategies of advocacy groups such as the Black Panther Party and the California Housing and Action Network. Progressive activists will savor this in-depth portrait of the struggle for justice."
— Publishers Weekly
"A creative, intimate ethnography centering on Marley, a charismatic and smart teen but reluctant protagonist. . . . The result is a gripping, up-close portrait of how the carceral state in LA makes Black life so precarious. . . . This innovative, intimate book examines Marley’s joy and pain as he encounters a web of precarity created by housing, education, health care, and social services. Summing Up: Highly recommended."
"A work of narrative storytelling, careful historical detail, and [an] homage to a community library that holds together many threads of hope within a system of destruction."
— Journal of African American History