Friday Night Lights

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Black and White Symbol Analysis

Black and White Symbol Icon

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.

Black and White Quotes in Friday Night Lights

The Friday Night Lights quotes below all refer to the symbol of Black and White. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Football Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Perseus edition of Friday Night Lights published in 1990.
Chapter 5: Black and White Quotes

It wasn’t necessary to live in Odessa for long to realize that the Permian football team wasn’t just a high school team but a sacrosanct white institution. “Mojo seemed to have a mystical charm to it,” Hurd said.

Related Characters: Buzz Bissinger (speaker), Laurence Hurd (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black and White
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Hurd points to an important component of the "Mojo" experience—that it is reserved primarily for white fans. This does not mean that black players can't participate and help the team. Indeed, coaches are all too happy to play whichever players will give the Panthers the best chance of winning the state tournament. But the special adulation of the "Mojo" fans is often reserved for the white stars, who are showered with praise.

Hurd is therefore acknowledging that Panthers football reflects, in a frustrating and profound way, the racial divisions of Texas (and Southern, and American) society well into the twentieth century, even after the gains of the Civil Rights era. Although everyone is permitted to play on the team—as would be legally required—the way the town treats, and celebrates, its players still falls into the same categories of racial bias. 

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Chapter 14: Friday Night Addiction Quotes

Dear God, we’re thankful for this day, we’re thankful for this opportunity you’ve given us to display the talent that you’ve blessed us with. Heavenly Father, we thank you for these men and these black jersies, tank you for the ability that you’ve given ‘em and the character that you’ve given ‘em.

Related Characters: Gary Gaines (speaker)
Related Symbols: Black and White
Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

Coach Gaines here argues that it is indeed a divine blessing to be able to coach for, play for, and root for the Permian Panthers. Bissinger takes this relationship between religion and football seriously. He does not wish to make fun of Gaines, who genuinely believes that it is an honor and privilege to play for Permian High. And Bissinger does not poke fun at the players and fans, for whom religion is an integral part of life, as is football. Why, Bissinger seems to ask, would these two tenants need to be separate, after all? If there is Divine Wisdom in all things, surely this wisdom would extend to football—at least in the eyes of a Permian fan or player.

Bissinger thus situates Gaines as a central authority figure in the book. Gaines is far from perfect—he puts an enormous amount of pressure on his players, for example. But he is still a man who tries his best to lead young men in an often-violent game. And he does so out of at least a partial conviction that what is good for Permian football is good for Odessa. 

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Black and White Symbol Timeline in Friday Night Lights

The timeline below shows where the symbol Black and White appears in Friday Night Lights. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Football Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
...utility player on the team, who, before the game, slips into his Chevy pickup truck—painted black like Permian’s school color. Jerrod listens to Bon Jovi and tries to put football at... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Watermelon Feed
Football Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
...off the Permian season. Hundreds of fans show up at the high school, dressed in black Permian gear, to buy the official football yearbook and get a chance to meet the... (full context)
Chapter 3: Boobie
Football Theme Icon
Race and Racial Divisions Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
...football at Bethune High, Crane’s high school for African American students. Only Crane High, the “white” school in town, had a football team. Instead, LV played basketball for Bethune and dreamed... (full context)
Chapter 8: East Versus West
Football Theme Icon
Race and Racial Divisions Theme Icon
Wealth, Poverty, and the Boom-Bust Cycle Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
...one, with some businesses unwilling to choose between them (bedecking themselves in both red and black, to show impartiality). But Permian continues to dominate on the field. As Bissinger returns to... (full context)
Chapter 10: Boobie Who?
Football Theme Icon
Race and Racial Divisions Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Winning, Losing, and a Purpose in Life Theme Icon
...back into the starting lineup. When Boobie returns after several weeks, he is assigned a white practice shirt, rather than a black starter’s shirt, during the week before the Odessa Game.... (full context)