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.
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
- 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.