It begins with uncertainty: Both the skate and the gnocchi seem like solid options — so which do I order? I’m in the mood for fish, but potato pasta is so nostalgic for me that I truly can’t make up my mind.
Next comes the glance: I look up at my dining partner to see if she too is struggling to decide what to have for dinner — one of the pitfalls of too many options.
Then the ask: “Wanna… share some things?” I inquire hopefully, holding my breath as soon as the question escapes my lips because this is more than a dining decision. It is a moment of truth.
Going out to dinner with me is like going out to dinner with your grubby little sister in that it is pretty hard for me to keep my hands away from your plate, so the answer to this question is obviously important. And while my astrological proclivities tend towards both indecisiveness (Gemini sun) and indulgence (Taurus moon AND rising), my perpetual desire to share is about much more than tasting all the flavors on the table — although that is certainly part of it, too.
It all goes back to what is often considered the shortest poem in the English language, written by Muhammad Ali:
Two little words encapsulate the reason my fork so often endeavors to hover over others’ plates — and why I encourage others to eat from mine as well. The poem transmits a sense of community; encourages care-taking and support. More than just two words that rhyme, the poem is a declaration about communal access to resources — If I eat, you eat — and an indictment of the Western obsession with the singular subject and self-determination. If I eat, we eat, because there is never a “me” that exists outside the context of community; I am simultaneously constitutive of and constituted by a collective. We provide with and for all.
There is a poet/critic/theorist/all-around brilliant person who consistently delights me named Fred Moten. He is the kind of creator who could never be accurately confined to one genre; the kind of thinker who’s almost too smart. Blackness features prominently in his work and I often turn to him for help putting words to the ways I think about identity; the ways in which I myself move through the world. David Wallace recently summarized some of Moten’s thoughts on Blackness nicely in the New Yorker: “For Moten, blackness is something ‘fugitive,’ as he puts it—an ongoing refusal of standards imposed from elsewhere.”
The word “ongoing” is important here — Moten’s conceptions of Blackness are expansive and ever-shifting. Take, for example, this line from an essay in the text (co-written with Stefano Harney) The Undercommons:
“We fall so we can fall again, which is what ascension really means to us. To fall is to lose one’s place, to lose the place that makes one, to relinquish the locus of being, which is to say of being single. This radical homelessness—its kinetic indigeneity, its irreducible queerness—is the essence of blackness.”
This quote explains why “me/we” carries so much weight — “me/we” is the essence of Blackness, too.
I share because it is who I am. Because who wants to be at the top alone? Because I truly believe that if I’m good, we are good. I eat off other people’s plates because those in my life believe that, too.
“Me/we means we flourish together, but also, if we’re both struggling, we’ll scrounge together to make sure we’re all living well — not just surviving,” says my (chosen) sister Nabila when I ask her to weigh in. “When the whole world is so honestly and obviously down to tell us we’re not whole or human or even here — we got us, down to the very honest material/organic needs of consumption.” Maslow’s basic need.
In that sense, it doesn’t matter if I get the skate, or the gnocchi, or whatever else from the menu catches my eye. Whatever choice I make will be just fine, and it will be made better via crossing forks and swapping bites — the enactment of “me/we” — which is, for me, the most nourishing aspect of dining there is.
Collage by Emily Zirimis.