I don’t know what to do with The Shade Room.
The celebrity news website and its wildly popular Instagram page (currently at over 20 million followers and counting) has, since its founding by Nigerian American entrepreneur Angelica Nwandu in 2014, become an institution in the world of Black gossip. It is a part of the Black lexicon and the Black zeitgeist, mentioned in rap songs and TV shows. With a hodgepodge of posts including celebrity news, memes, politics and inspirational messages, The Shade Room has cemented itself as a constantly evolving archive of Black pop culture.
That’s what makes The Shade Room so intensely intriguing and addictive. It is relentless with content generation, adept at locking onto stories as they develop (a running joke is that The Shade Room seems to repost celebrity Instagram posts before the celebrities have even posted them). And it is powerful enough to not only follow the gossip but also to become the catalyst for it. On any given day, you’ll see Black celebrities, influencers and reality television stars like Teyana Taylor, B. Simone and Nene Leakes “step into The Shade Room” to refute, clap back or cut up in the comments with thousands of other followers. These comments from celebs usually get screencapped and made into their own posts, forming a never-ending, self-referential loop of tea.
In a March 2019 profile for Marie Claire, Nwandu contended that she doesn’t think of The Shade Room as purely a gossip site but more of a cultural archive. “I think our site is about the culture,” she said, “All the things that make black culture beautiful.” To some extent, Nwandu is correct in that The Shade Room does provide a kind of snapshot of Blackness that, while not definitive, is most definitely key. But with the beauty, obviously, comes some of the ugliness.
The comments section on The Shade Room can be regarded as a fascinating, telling and ultimately disturbing microcosm of ideas and attitudes. It...