I read with interest Professor Carolyn Rouse’s thoughtful essay, “Capital Crimes” (December issue). I thought Professor Rouse is on target with her observations, and I am always glad to see Princeton address concerns involving racial fairness. However, it saddens me a bit that people are making this much effort to address language usages, which for the most part have very little impact on racial justice itself.
I understand Rouse’s essay was partly in response to a Princeton alumnus who questioned the disparity in a PAW article which capitalized the “B” in “Black” but failed to capitalize the “w” in “white.” To that alumnus and to the community at large (including the staff at PAW), I would ask, don’t we have more impactful things to worry about?
I think much more harm is done by the American legacy of racial redlining, differential access to education, and a host of other historical and current inequities than by the question of whose label gets capitalized when. I will happily capitalize Black (or not capitalize it), and I will do the same with white, if by so doing I can minimize offense to someone, but I would much rather see us devote our time and attention to discussing how we can provide more opportunities to low-income people (regardless of race), prevent employment discrimination, and assure that everyone has adequate access to health care, fair policing, and the right to vote. And I say that as a former English major who recognizes that words do have consequences.