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INTRODUCTION

KEY POINTS

  • Over 15.5% of the world’s population is made up of people of African descent, whether based in sub-Saharan Africa or living elsewhere. In the United States, there were more than 42 million residents of African descent in 2010, representing over 13% of the population. Additionally, the number of individuals self-identifying as “multiracial” has grown substantially in the last 10 years.

  • Cultural and racial identities have a direct impact on a patient’s diagnosis, treatment options, and healthcare practices. Therefore, it is vital that treating physicians recognize the beliefs and cultural context of each patient so as to fully understand the patient’s individual health concerns and conditions and subsequently be able to recommend effective treatments.

  • Although much of African American culture in the United States originates from African traditions, a distinctly African American experience is now apparent, separate from the “traditional” African culture. As time passes, African American culture will continue to change and evolve with each new generation.

  • There are significant disparities in health status and service utilization between African Americans and other ethnic groups. Certain factors have been identified that play a role in this disparity between patient populations, including the accessibility of care, differences in treatment-seeking behaviors between groups, and a lack of trust in physicians and the medical system in general.

  • In the African American community, hair care is considered vitally important, and individual hairstyles may have social, political, and esthetic implications. Today, a vast selection of hairstyles is currently in fashion among African American individuals, each of which can have various associated dermatologic concerns, such as pomade acne, irritant contact dermatitis, or relaxer-induced scarring alopecia.

  • Many African American patients hold inaccurate beliefs regarding skin and hair care, for instance, regarding the need for sun protection or ways to encourage hair growth. Physicians should take a thorough history from each patient so as to be able to dispel these common misconceptions and perhaps prescribe a more effective treatment for any underlying conditions.

The population of individuals of African descent in the United States is comprised of a dynamic and increasingly complex diaspora. Much of African American culture is rooted in African traditions, with countless similarities found in various aspects of life, such as food, music, dance movements, and hair and skin care practices. However, distance, time, and creativity have shaped a distinctly African American experience that stands on its own, apart from its African heritage. In fact, visiting many cities in Africa can reveal the influence that African American music and fashion have on African popular culture.

One of the fascinations of studying culture is observing the ways in which each culture evolves. Recent trends in immigration show an increase in the number of first-generation Africans and Afro-Caribbeans in the United States, adding a new layer to the existing population.1 This demographic shift continues to broaden the range of perspectives, beliefs, and healthcare practices of people of African descent in the ...

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