Genetic ancestry, skin color and social attainment: The four cities study.


INTRODUCTION: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. METHODS: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. RESULTS: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. CONCLUSIONS: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.






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Publication Info

Teteh, Dede K, Lenna Dawkins-Moultin, Stanley Hooker, Wenndy Hernandez, Carolina Bonilla, Dorothy Galloway, Victor LaGroon, Eunice Rebecca Santos, et al. (2020). Genetic ancestry, skin color and social attainment: The four cities study. PloS one, 15(8). p. e0237041. 10.1371/journal.pone.0237041 Retrieved from

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Charmaine DM Royal

Robert O. Keohane Professor of African & African American Studies

Charmaine Royal is the Robert O. Keohane Professor of African & African American Studies, Biology, Global Health, and Family Medicine & Community Health at Duke University. She directs the Duke Center on Genomics, Race, Identity, Difference and the Duke Center for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation.

Dr. Royal’s research, scholarship, and teaching focus on ethical, social, scientific, and clinical implications of human genetics and genomics, with an emphasis on issues at the intersection of genetics and race. Her interests and primary areas of work include genetics and genomics in African and African Diaspora populations; sickle cell disease and trait; public and professional perspectives and practices regarding race, ethnicity, and ancestry; genetic ancestry inference; and genotype-environment interplay. A fundamental aim of her work is to dismantle ideologies and systems of racial hierarchy in science, healthcare, and society. She serves on numerous national and international advisory boards and committees for government agencies, professional organizations, research initiatives, not-for-profit entities, and corporations.

Dr. Royal obtained a bachelor’s degree in microbiology, master’s degree in genetic counseling, and doctorate in human genetics from Howard University. She completed postgraduate training in ethical, legal, and social implications (ELSI) research and bioethics at the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health, and in epidemiology and behavioral medicine at Howard University Cancer Center.

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