Maple Donuts, coffee shops, and unapologetic identities

It starts with a Zippy strip from July 1st, featuring the Maple Donuts shop on Historic Lincoln Highway in York PA (and, incredibly, it will end with singings of the Negro National Anthem; in between, there will be firearms):

(#1) Maple Donuts, featured a number of times in Zippy strips

It might not be an accident that the strip appeared a few days before America’s great patriotic holiday, Independence Day / the Fourth of July. To see why, we need to look at the actual Maple Donuts store.

That will take us, on the one hand, to the adjoining coffee shop; and, on the other hand, to proud, unapologetic assertions of identities.

The store (open 24/7), from the outside:

(#2) Donuts and a big display of Christian patriotism

The interior of the coffee shop:

(#3) Counter and tables

And a display of the company’s products:

(#4) A few are maple-glazed

The company’s own copy, emphasizing its community commitments:

Maple Donuts began in 1946 when Charles F. Burnside began frying donuts and selling them to local churches and schools. Charlie quickly secured a local following and opened his first retail store location on Maple Street. [Note the origin of the name.] After finding success in the York area, Charlie set his sights on growing the donut business and opened additional stores throughout the York County area. Maple Donuts is a strong supporter of the York County area.

The company still has a strong presence in many of the churches and schools in York County. Maple Donuts is involved with many charity events and often donates its products to special events throughout the York area. Today Maple Donuts operates 4 locations, along with a stand at the local Eastern Market on Fridays. Maple Donuts continues a long tradition of providing high quality products and remains a staple of the York area.

The coffee shop. A category in American commerce, with its accompanying label. Although the terms often overlap in usage, there are (at least) three categories here: COFFEESHOP, CAFE, DINER.

Wikipedia makes a first stab at the topic:

A coffeehouse, coffee shop or café (sometimes spelled cafe) is an establishment which primarily serves hot coffee, related coffee beverages (e.g., café latte, cappuccino, espresso), tea, and other hot beverages. Some coffeehouses also serve cold beverages such as iced coffee and iced tea. Many cafés also serve some type of food, such as light snacks, muffins or pastries. Coffeehouses range from owner-operated small businesses to large multinational corporations.

and it notes the usage:

Coffee shop, in the U.S., a casual, popular-priced restaurant similar to a diner

NOAD2 similarly supplies two senses for coffee shop:

a cafe serving coffee and light refreshments [denoting CAFE]

a small, informal restaurant [denoting COFFEESHOP]

The canonical COFFEESHOP and the canonical DINER both have a counter for service, and usually either booths or free-standing tables or both. Both serve coffee — typically of only a few types, in contrast to the range of options at a CAFE, and also typically already brewed, rather than brewed for each order, as at a CAFE — and sweet breads or cakes (donuts in particular, but also muffins and more), plus some light savory foods (some common options: sandwiches, soups, salads). Both COFFEESHOPS and DINERS are relatively small, inexpensive, and informal.

COFFEESHOPs and DINERs differ in at least two ways, at least in their canonical instantiations: a DINER is a free-standing establishment, while a COFFEESHOP is attached to or part of some other establishment (a store, as above, or a hotel or motel), while a DINER is free-standing; and a DINER typically offers hot foods, especially those prepared individually for customers, that a COFFEESHOP typically does not: grilled cheese sandwiches, hotdogs, burgers, French dips, etc.

Here in Palo Alto I’m close to many CAFEs — Coupa Cafe, Peet’s, Starbucks, Philz Coffee, Prolific Oven Bakery & Cafe, Cafe Epi, Cafe Borrone — and a few DINERs, notably the Palo Alto Creamery and the Peninsula Fountain & Grill.

The categories DINER and COFFEESHOP shade into a number of other categories of eating places, variously referred to as family restaurants, drive-through restaurants, and fast-food restaurants.

Proud to be (an) American. Then there are the symbols and slogans on the diner: two American flags, one waving in the breeze, with the slogan American Quality; the other superimposed on an outline of a U.S. map, with the slogan God Bless America. (Plus a donut with a bite taken out, but that’s not notable on a donut shop.). Symbols and slogans conveying, broadly, patriotism and Christian belief: the Maple Donut company is proud to be American and proud to be Christian.

Whatever that means for a company. But let’s suppose the message is just about the owners of the company, who are proclaiming to anyone passing by that they are proud to be American(s) and Christian(s). But these are strong majoritarian positions, so what’s conveyed by the symbols and slogans?

Displaying symbols and slogans on appropriate occasions — American flags and patriotic slogans for patriotic holidays, like the Fourth of July, or crosses and Christian messages for Christian holidays, like Christmas and Easter — wouldn’t be surprising. And minority groups of all kinds might display symbols and slogans to claim a place in public life (against resistance to such claims), to unapologetically assert an identity, interest, commitment, or opinion (as I do when I display lgbt symbols and slogans).

But the Maple Donuts practice goes well beyond that. Viewing things straightforwardly, there would seem to be no point in announcing so prominently and constantly that you’re proud of something that most people agree with you on. If you look for relevance in these protestations, you might suppose that the Maple Donuts people are crowing in pride, asserting their superiority over the minority, casting doubt on the sincerity of those who don’t advertise their pride so vehemently, and so on.

That might make anyone uneasy.

All this was back at the beginning of July. Later that month came Wesley Morris writing in the NYT Magazine, in “Is Being ‘Unapologetic’ the New Patriotic — or a Form of Resistance?”  [on-line on 7/25], also “Guilt Free” [in print on 7/30]:

We’re living in sorry times, people. And by ‘‘sorry,’’ I mean ‘‘not sorry.’’ Right now, the far-right website Breitbart News is selling T-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘‘Unapologetically American.’’ The shirt’s label is printed with the Breitbart logo, ‘‘Made in USA’’ and ‘‘#WAR.’’ This is a shirt that wants to be starting something. Jamming ‘‘unapologetically’’ in front of ‘‘American’’ like that, with all those aggro fixin’s, implies that anybody wearing a different shirt doesn’t love America.

(#5) AR-15 Decal: Q: Do you know what’s scarier than a semi-automatic rifle? / A: Being in a situation where you need a semi-automatic rifle and don’t have one.


The shirt’s sentiment is so pervasive throughout government at the moment that it’s tempting to ask some elected officials what their size is.

… In the [REDACTED] era, ‘‘unapologetic’’ constitutes a state of mind: There is no shame in flouting norms, exiting accords, jeopardizing international relationships, lying.

If you see things that way, you’re also likely to be of the mind that all Barack Obama did as president was apologize for America. Mitt Romney’s book, from 2010, was called ‘‘No Apology: The Case for American Greatness’’ and sprang from the premise that, in 2009, Obama toured the world asking other governments for forgiveness. According to Romney, ‘‘He has apologized for what he deems to be American arrogance, dismissiveness and derision; for dictating solutions, for acting unilaterally and for acting without regard for others.’’

That’s not untrue. In reality, though, Obama spent some of his overseas visits ruminating on the United States’ strengths and weaknesses. ‘‘America, like every other nation, has made mistakes and has its flaws,’’ he said to students in Istanbul. ‘‘But for more than two centuries, we have strived at great cost and sacrifice to form a more perfect union.’’ Obama spoke directly to Muslim leaders and their people about the importance of the bond between the Islamic world and the West, rebuking, at least in spirit, the George W. Bush administration’s bellicosity.

In Obama’s view, apologies were sometimes warranted and should be offered without shame. But among nationalists and certain conservatives, his humility secured him a reputation as weak. [REDACTED] succeeded where Romney failed, in part because he could run against a caricature of Obama instead of the man himself. The concoction of a chronically contrite Obama made the anti-apologetic [REDACTED] seem more masculine, more American.

The current practitioners of the pugilistic nonapology have licensed themselves not to care about the present, let alone the past, and instead to boastfully deny responsibility for everything. But there’s a different, equally powerful concept of unapology that cares deeply. That unapology holds dear all that ‘‘unapologetically American’’ mocks and ignores. We’re talking about heritage but also about butts and skin and hair. We’re talking, among other things, about Beyoncé.

And then Morris runs with it, exalting Beyoncé for her unapologetic, celebratory Black femininity.

The flag is complex enough. But then there’s the national anthem of the US, which is a hymn to the flag in war (so that protesting the anthem counts as disrespecting the flag — which in turn counts, in some people’s minds, as an insult to those Americans who have fought and died in war).

That brings me to the NYT recently, in a 11/22 editorial column by Brent Staples, “Colin Kaepernick and the Legacy of the Negro National Anthem”:

The lawyer and amateur poet Francis Scott Key embraced the pop cultural tastes of his day when he wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” to commemorate an American victory over the British at Baltimore during the War of 1812.

… Abolitionists during Key’s lifetime viewed “The Star-Spangled Banner” as they viewed the nation as a whole — through the lens of the injustice perpetuated by slavery. They argued that Key should have described America as the “land of the free and home of the oppressed.”

The professional football player Colin Kaepernick appealed to that same sense of injustice last year when he knelt during “The Star-Spangled Banner” to protest police violence against African-Americans. By doing so, he tapped into a feeling of alienation from the anthem in the black community that dates back to the days of racial terrorism and lynching in the South.

Congress declared “The Star-Spangled Banner” the national anthem in 1931. Well before then, however, black communities across the Jim Crow South were instead embracing the soaring, aspirational lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — otherwise known as the Negro National Anthem — which was sung in churches, at civic events and even in schools, where substituting the song for “The Star-Spangled Banner” was a quiet act of rebellion against the racist status quo.

[You can listen here to a 11/13/16 rendition of the hymn at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem (with introduction by Dr. Calvin Butts). And you can listed here to an all-stops-out performance conducted by Roland M. Carter at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta on 1/31/16 as part of the 50th Anniversary of Duke Ellington’s Sacred Concerts.]

… “The Star-Spangled Banner” began as an ordinary song that competed with other songs for space in the American imagination. It was not until the early 20th century that it acquired the stature of a sacred writ and became, in effect, a loyalty test and an excuse for people who called themselves patriots to harass and beat people who dissented from the song’s message.

The truth is that the maxims about freedom implied in the song describe a condition the country has yet to achieve. People who confront that reality by kneeling prayerfully on the football field are often more determinedly patriotic than those who reflexively stand.

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