It was Associate Professor of Philosophy Jerry Miller’s “Structuralism and Poststructuralism” course that may very well have changed the course of Bradford Gladstone’s life. He’d been considering a major in history, but the nature of reality captured his imagination in a way that the events of the past never had. Likewise, it was another Miller course—“Topics in Ethical Theory: Race,” this time—that refined his philosophical focus.
“Starting from early 20th-century writers and concluding with Professor Miller’s book Stain Removal: Ethics and Race, the class discussed various approaches of race and its relationship to ethics,” Gladstone says. “I found his definition of race and its functions to be highly persuasive, but it leads to drastic consequences beyond the realm of ethics, especially for political philosophy. What then happens when the judgment of another’s action through one’s race defines someone as a criminal as opposed to an innocent?”
It was this question that preoccupied Gladstone throughout his four years at Haverford, and ultimately led him to frame his senior thesis as a response to it.
“My thesis… focused on a critique of contemporary political philosophers of race implying an ability to ‘go beyond’ race in a manner that they do not justify,” he says.
Still feeling as though there is more to explore there, though, he’s pursuing a Ph.D. in philosophy at Emory University starting this fall. His end goal? “I would look to create a positive political theory that incorporates the necessary role of race while still working to re-imagine the expectation of criminality seen in marginalized races,” he says. It’s a desire that’s only been sharpened by the spate of high-profile racial profiling incidents in the news recently, not least the arrest of two innocent black men in a Philadelphia Starbucks.
“How does an employee determine what action these people are performing in the store? How do they distinguish between the possibilities of standing, waiting, loitering, or casing?” Gladstone says. “It is through embodied characteristics, that include race, that one determines what has occurred. The employee believes, oftentimes not explicitly, in a tendency or expectation that a black figure is to perform criminal acts; therefore, the act these two are then performing in the Starbucks is the suspicious criminal activity of trespassing.”
It’s these concepts and more that Gladstone hopes to teach one day to undergraduates—some of whom may turn out to be very like himself as he was back when he took Miller’s philosophy seminar.
“I am hoping to enter the professorial world as soon as possible,” he says, “to both further my own research and to expand the field of philosophy of race to incoming students who have likely never heard of the field before.”
“Where They’re Headed” is a blog series reporting on the post-collegiate plans of recent Haverford graduates.
Photo: The trees of Haverford’s arboretum behind him, Bradford Gladstone ’18 smiles for the camera. Photo courtesy of Bradford Gladstone ’18.