Shade

"Shade has always been subversive. It has roots in slave culture, in the development of what Johnson calls the techniques that evolved to allow African-Americans a measure of assertiveness despite being in constant physical and psychological peril. “The threat of being beaten or mutilated was always there if you were to look at a slave master directly in his eye, or if you were to sass, so African-Americans developed these covert ways of communication, which, over time, have morphed into the traditional ways that they interact with one another,” he says. It makes sense, then, that the concept of shade was refined by some of the most marginalized people in American society: gay men, and, later, straight women of color, each of whom had to find socially acceptable ways to communicate humor and aggression. As the writer Tameka Bradley Hobbs explained in an article on the website For Harriet, the practice is “the bitter residue of a people who have mastered the art of dismissing and humiliating others with humor and sarcasm after having been degraded for years ourselves” ...

Shade is currently having another moment, in no small part because of the ascendancy of the African-American vernacular in both popular culture and digital media ... 

... It would be a shame if shade, like other African-American art forms that have been taken up by mainstream culture, became diluted, its meaning encompassing any and every insult and attempt at one-upmanship. But maybe that’s inevitable. “It’s absolutely in line with the tradition of American culture realizing that black people have figured something out,” Jones says, with just a hint of, yeah, shade."

–The Underground Art of the Insult