Throughout Friday Night Lights, author Buzz Bissinger traces a set of recurring colors—black and white, and how they are manifest in the community of Odessa, in West Texas. Of course, most immediately, black and white represent the racial divisions of that region. The town of Odessa is itself clearly divided between its white east side, its Latino west side, and its African American south side, which literally sits on the “other side of the tracks.” Permian High’s football team is largely white, although a few African American players, like Boobie, Chris Comer, and Ivory Christian contribute a great deal to the team’s success, and are seen as stars in the community. Compounding this, the Permian Panthers’ school colors are black—designed to be intimidating—and the stands at Permian’s field are filled with black t-shirts and hats on game day.
Unfortunately, the African-American “stars” on the football field are not afforded equal treatment off it, and are often perceived of differently by their coaches. Thus Bissinger traces a larger set of symbolic values for “whiteness” and “blackness.” The purity Bissinger finds in the struggle on the football field, the moral clarity of beating the enemy between the hash-marks, is a stark, “black and white,” “us vs. them” division. This competitive division is found, too, in the boom-bust cycle of the oil industry, in which fortunes are made and lost quickly—when you’re up, you’re up, and when you’re down, the world seems bleak and futureless. Football provides a set of clear, black-and-white decisions in a world that, as Bissinger describes it, is economically, politically, and socially complex—more muddy and gray than many residents of Odessa would like to admit. In this way, “black and white” provides both a comfort to the town in its simplicity, and yet also describes many of the town’s problematic difficulties, in terms of the divisions that separate its citizens.