Document Type


Publication Date



The Black population in the US is heterogeneous but is often treated as monolithic in research, with skin pigmentation being the primary indicator of racial classification. Objective: This paper examines the differences among Blacks by comparing genetic ancestry, skin color and social attainment of 259 residents across four US cities—Norman, Oklahoma; Cincinnati, Ohio; Harlem, New York; and Washington, District of Columbia.

Participants were recruited between 2004 and 2006 at community-based forums. Cross-sectional data were analyzed using chi-square tests, correlation analyses and logistic regression.

There were variations in ancestry, melanin index and social attainment across some cities. Overall, men with darker skin color, and women with lighter skin color were significantly more likely to be married. Darker skin individuals with significantly more West African ancestry reported attainment of graduate degrees, and professional occupations than lighter skin individuals.

Our findings suggest differences in skin pigmentation by geography and support regional variations in ancestry of US Blacks. Biomedical research should consider genetic ancestry and local historical/social context rather than relying solely on skin pigmentation as a proxy for race.


This article was originally published in PLoS ONE, volume 15, issue 8, in 2020. (3199 kB)
Supplementary information

Peer Reviewed



The authors

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.



To view the content in your browser, please download Adobe Reader or, alternately,
you may Download the file to your hard drive.

NOTE: The latest versions of Adobe Reader do not support viewing PDF files within Firefox on Mac OS and if you are using a modern (Intel) Mac, there is no official plugin for viewing PDF files within the browser window.