Reported rates of dementia differ by race, although most studies have not focused on carefully measured outcomes, confounding by education or other demographic factors, nor have they studied other outcomes other than dementia. In this review we will discuss the experience in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study evaluating racial disparities relating to stroke, subclinical brain infarction, leukoaraiosis, as well as cognitive change and dementia. ARIC is a biracial cohort of 15,792 participants from four U.S. communities, initially recruited in 1987-1989, and seen at a total of 5 in-person visits (most recently seen in 2011-2013) with annual follow-up phone calls. We will provide evidence from ARIC studies that disproportionate rates of vascular risk factors explain at least some of these observed disparities by race, but particular risk factors, including diabetes, may differentially affect the brain in African-American versus white participants. In addition, we will review some of the disparities by race in studies focusing on the genetics of stroke, small vessel disease, and dementia.