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I was assigned to write about the relationship between poverty and crime, and in my research, race came up as a factor. I'm supposed to use the MLA format. Should 'black' and 'white' be capitalized when referring to the respective races? I see that APA specifies that they should be capitalized, but I can't find anything for MLA.

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    Possibly on topic here as per meta.academia.stackexchange.com/questions/3457/… – gman Dec 7 '16 at 20:29
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    Retracted my close vote after seeing that I actually upvoted the meta answer saying citation style questions are on topic. – Cape Code Dec 7 '16 at 21:11
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    Interestingly, White authors generally use the lower case. Black authors, or authors who read a lot of articles written by Black authors, generally use upper case. See, for example, journalofafricanamericanmales.com. – aparente001 Dec 9 '16 at 2:31
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    This isn't a question to be decided by a stylesheet, it's a question to be decided by your ideological stance. Starting ca. 1970, in the US, writing "Black" instead of "black" connoted a certain set of political beliefs. In any case, both "black" and "Black" have succumbed to the euphemism treadmill. Are you using these terms in a historical context, as with "negro" and "colored?" Or do you believe that they have a meaning that is objectively well defined for your purposes? You could preface an article on this kind of topic with an explanation of your usage and why it suits your purposes. – Ben Crowell Dec 9 '16 at 5:31
  • @aparente001 I restored the OP's description of the subject of the research because the capitalization can be field specific (even irrespective of the citation style). For example, in medicine lowercase is used most often, while uppercase is often used in some social science fields. So the subject of the research can be relevant to the answers. – ff524 Dec 9 '16 at 19:10
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Firstly, the MLA has the following on its website;

When Merriam-Webster indicates that a term is “capitalized” or “usually capitalized,” the MLA capitalizes the term in its publications. When Merriam-Webster indicates that a term is “often capitalized,” our practice varies. We usually lowercase sun, moon, and earth, but, following The Chicago Manual of Style, when the does not precede the name of the planet, when earth is not part of an idiomatic expression, or when other planets are mentioned, we capitalize earth:

The earth revolves around the sun.

The astronauts landed on the moon.

The space shuttle will return to Earth next year.

The four planets closest to the sun—Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars—compose the inner solar system.

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary Part of the Definition for black

(1) often capitalized: of or relating to any of various population groups having dark pigmentation of the skin (black Americans) (2) : of or relating to the African-American people or their culture (black literature) (a black college) (black pride) (black studies)

From Merriam-Webster Dictionary Part of the definition for white

a : being a member of a group or race characterized by light pigmentation of the skin

This makes no reference to capitalization. From the MLA definition it appears that they should be lower case.

This MLA stylesheet also says;

Capitalization in MLA style is mostly conventional, with the exceptions noted below. Generally, specific designations are capitalized, as in the American West. But more general designations--or designations used as adjectives--are lowercased: The western United States, eastern Europe.

  • The names of ethnic or racial groups are capitalized if they represent a geographical region or language group. For example, Hispanic, Asian, African American, Appalachian.
  • Terms based only on color, direction, size, habitat, customs, or local usage are usually lowercased

Irrespective of the above, as per guifa, Ben Crowell, and ff524 comments, a number of other factors can also be considered in making a decision to capitalise or not such as

  • Those that read MLA will be pretty flexible so you can always explain your choice in a footnote. It's actually quite common to do that with certain terminology issues. For example, you could say "In this paper, for [insert reason], we/I capitalize all adjetives referencing ethnic or racial groups."
  • You could preface an article on this kind of topic with an explanation of your usage and why it suits your purposes.
  • Capitalization can be field specific (even irrespective of the citation style). For example, in medicine lowercase is used most often, while uppercase is often used in some social science fields.
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    @Zenon (and @ gman), MLA — or at least those that read MLA — will be pretty flexible. And especially if race is a focal point, you can always explain your choice in a footnote. It's actually quite common to do that with certain terminology issues. For example, you could say "In this paper, for [insert reason], we/I capitalize all adjetives referencing ethnic or racial groups." – user0721090601 Dec 9 '16 at 4:30
  • @guifa - I suggest making this an answer. Very helpful. – aparente001 Dec 12 '16 at 9:03

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