Seeking to heal racism-related stress

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  • Maxim Alkon, counsellor and mental health advocate starts workshop to heal racism 

(Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

    Maxim Alkon, counsellor and mental health advocate starts workshop to heal racism (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)


Hurt people hurt people.

It is with this in mind that Maxim Alkon approaches people experiencing trauma or stress.

Residents struggling with racism-related stress are his current focus. The 38-year-old has created a series of workshops to help them heal.

“We know this issue has been here for a long time. As far as I know I’ve never heard anyone talk about healing from it,” he said.

“I’ve only ever heard people say, ‘Let’s have a polite conversation about it’.

“Conversations in and of themselves don’t really do much at all.

“We can still pursue that discussion — that’s very important — but if all we do is have a conversation, when does the healing start?”

He finds it frustrating.

“There’s this issue that we have in Bermuda that’s been here since the very beginning — of racism, prejudice and discrimination,” said Mr Alkon, a counsellor with Benedict Associates.

“This is something that has existed for generations. I know Curb is doing something which follows Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela in South Africa, the reconciliation, but one of the problems with restorative justice is oftentimes it ends at the conversation, and that doesn’t provide healing.

“If I upset you I could apologise, but that’s just one small part of it.

“Then there’s all the damage; then there’s all the pain that essentially has to be overcome or restored.”

Although Bermudian, Mr Alkon was born in America. He has masters degrees from the University of Edinburgh and Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

He treated neo-Nazis and members of the Ku Klux Klan while working at maximum security prisons in the US.

He found the work “interesting”.

One man was incarcerated for a race-motivated hate crime when he was 23.

His stepfather was physically abusive and his mother, an emotionally abusive alcoholic.

The man left home at 18 and joined the Neo-Nazi Party at 21.

Although “aggressive and hostile” when they first met, the inmate became receptive over the course of seven months. Mr Alkon didn’t reveal he was Jewish until the final day of treatment.

He used the experience as a case study for his PhD in clinical psychology at Alliant International University.

“The people I worked with were supposedly racists [but] directly going for people who are racist is not very plausible; we must heal the abusers to stop the abuse,” he said.

It was only after acknowledging his clients’ hurt and pain that he was able to begin work on “the hurt they caused others”.

“Racism-related stress is both psychological and physiological, but it’s also relational,” he said.

“Part of [the workshop] will be about creating the outlet to express and overcome the trauma, as opposed to coping with it.

“Coping doesn’t lead to solving the problem.

“It can be another form of abuse to ask someone, or expect them, to cope with their abuse.

“There’s a lot of discussion in researching the coping skills of young black men and how those coping skills actually make it worse for them because of how they’re perceived.”

Drug use, outbursts of anger, frustration, yelling and fighting are examples of such stereotypes, he said.

“These are things which they’re doing in an attempt to cope with what’s happening to them. We want to be able to build a community of people that can depend upon people and look to each other to heal so that they can develop their self-esteem, develop their confidence, develop their identity.

“I would imagine for many people there is an existential crisis that’s never discussed: Who am I? Where do I come from? The purpose is to get at those issues that no one is getting at. Malcolm X once said that changing the minds of black people is where the change will happen — how they see themselves. This is what we will do.”

Mr Alkon’s workshops are $40 for a two-hour session once a week. The cost includes unlimited e-mailing and phone follow-up. Contact him on maximalkon@gmail.com.

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Published Mar 1, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 1, 2017 at 12:57 am)

Seeking to heal racism-related stress

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