Essential hypertension appears to be more prevalent among blacks than among whites and has an earlier onset in blacks. Many data in this field come from studies in the African-American population. Hypertension-related complications, e.g. ischaemic heart disease, (end stage) renal failure and cerebrovascular disease, are encountered more often among blacks and frequently run a more severe course. Factors that might explain the racial difference in prevalence of hypertension and hypertensive complications include both genetic and environmental variables. Hypertension in blacks is characterized by salt sensitivity, a tendency towards expanded plasma volume and low plasma renin levels. Socioeconomic factors, the higher prevalence of obesity and insulin resistance may contribute to the high prevalence of hypertension in blacks. Aggressive antihypertensive therapy appears mandatory in the black hypertensive, possibly with lower goal blood pressures than the 140/90 mmHg generally recommended. Diuretic monotherapy proves to be the first-line therapy, calcium channel blockers are an attractive alternative. Black patients are frequently less responsive to monotherapy with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and beta-blocking agents. This black/white difference in therapeutic response can, however, be eliminated by addition of a diuretic.