top of page

Shine Sir?

Sometimes the man who sits and serves at your feet is the key to your consciousness… For generations, African American men made a living shining the shoes of men trudging the streets of urban areas. What became a representation of civility and class for the wearer – shined shoes – simultaneously rendered the shiner less than. Many Black men, working as shoe shiners into their senior years, continued to be referred to as “boys” or by the even more derogatory term “shines,” by white as well as Black clients. Several shoe shine establishments in the D.C. metropolitan area, including that sheltered in the lobby of the Walter Washington Convention Center, use Latin workers. The skill and craft of shining remains the same, but the shiners and clients have changed.

Excerpt from “I am Not Your Negro” (James Baldwin) I was to discover that the line which separates a witness from an actor is a very thin line indeed; nevertheless, the line is real. I was not, for example, a Black Muslim, In the same way, though for different reasons, that I never became a Black Panther: Because I did not believe that all white people were devils, and I did not want young Black people to believe that. I was not a member of any Christian congregation because I knew that they had not heard and did not live by the commandment “love one another as I love you,” and I was not a member of the NAACP because in the North, where I grew up, the NAACP was fatally entangled with Black class distinctions, or illusions of the same, which repelled a shoe-shine boy like me.

– Mel Pond, Acumen Intern

bottom of page