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Developing Cultural Competency

Cultural Knowledge, Awareness, Sensitivity, Competence

III.  African American Culture

In their access to health care, African Americans have differences based on age, education, and place of birth. The sources of these differences vary and may include beliefs brought from Africa which have survived the slave trade, carryover of Western explanations of illnesses during slavery, and modern medical theories and practices.

How do African Americans deal with illness?

  • Religion, spirituality, and kinship ties may have an important role in the understanding and treatment of illness. Any type of illness, physical or mental, may be seen as a lack of spiritual balance. African Americans may believe illness is a result of natural causes or the will of God. Somali's believe that illness is cause by the "evil eye," for example, not sharing food when eating in front of a hungry person.
  • Some may refer to treatment as giving God a chance to heal them.
  • Older persons may seek care from folk healers, lay advice, home remedies, and prayer to treat the illness. People from southern states may also use spiritual elders, herbs and rituals.
  • Communication, which enhances the building of trusting relationships, is very important in the African American culture.

Understanding relationships

  • Show respectful behavior (as understood within African American culture) towards resident.
  • Until invited to do otherwise, greet the resident by using formal titles, such as Mr., Mrs., or Ms.
  • Take special care to have matching verbal and non-verbal patterns. Especially communicate that you are listening and paying full attention to what the resident may be telling you.
  • The resident may include many people as part of their extended family or part of the patients' wider social network.

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