Friday Night Lights Essay

1241 words - 5 pages

While admittedly not the main emphasis of the novel, racism shows its ugly face in the lives of the citizens of the small West Texan town of Odessa in H.G. Bissinger’s Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream. Going into Odessa with the intention of writing solely about the culture of high school football present there, he ultimately ends up with a much wider scope:

When I first arrived in Odessa, I anticipated a book very much like tradition of the film Hoosiers… But along the way some other things happened - the most ugly racism I have ever encountered, utterly misplaced educational priorities, a town that wasn’t bad or evil but had lost any ability to judge itself. It would have ...view middle of the document...

(Bissinger, 91) This wall also exists in the minds of whites, who cannot bring themselves to accept their black neighbors as well as in those of the blacks, who are comfortable and used to the system, no matter how cruel it is. The distribution of race among the primary and secondary students of the city is a clear marker of the extreme division of races before the desegregation. Ector High School was essentially the minority school and was located, rather unsurprisingly, in the part of town south of the tracks. Its facilities were a far cry from Permian’s multi-million dollar football field a few miles north. Permian, on the other hand, was made up of around 99% Caucasians. Odessa High School was similarly distributed. In football terms, Permian was the champion, Odessa was a worthy competitor, and Ector was not allowed to compete. Odessa High School was a real challenger to Permian, at least until its desegregation. After that, its athletic losses were mostly blamed on Hispanic students who would “rather play soccer”. (Bissinger) Until the federal government forces desegregation in the 1980’s, this keeps blacks out of the collective experience and psyche of the white public. There are two separate, but very unequal societies in Odessa. Different schools, different neighborhoods, and starkly differing opportunities define a system stratified not by character but instead by color.
Bissinger accredits some of the continued racism in Odessa simply to a lack of contact and communication between the two groups. Whites can go an entire day shopping around town without encountering even one African-American. When African-American students finally do begin attending Permian High School en masse, they are only permitted to truly excel in one way; sports. On the gridiron, black running backs are revered and praised to no end. However, the white fans of Permian view them in this sense not as black, but as a cog in the mighty “Mojo” machine. They are tools and assets rather than people. Just as Odessa’s whites view blacks and “niggers” as separate entities, they think of black players with the same philosophy. Black players have to earn their status and are always in danger of losing it, while white players are gifted theirs and will not lose it. They don’t fit in at Mojo; they are simply to be used as one uses cleats and helmets before hanging them up until the next game. This, however, is well known by the African-American players themselves (perhaps with the exception of Boobie Miles). “‘We fit as athletes, but we really don’t fit as a part of society,’ said Nate Hearne, the only black coach at...

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