PURPOSE: To determine the structural characteristics of the optic disc that are associated with early glaucoma in African Americans and whites and whether these characteristics differ between the races. METHODS: Parameters of optic disc topography from 260 African American eyes and 193 white eyes were included in the analysis. One hundred forty-four eyes of African Americans and 109 eyes of normal white subjects were used as a control group. Logistic regression was used to calculate the association between early glaucoma, defined by the visual field, and cup, rim, and disc margin confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopic (CSLO) parameters, using odds ratios at binary cut points. The cup, rim, and disc margin parameters identified as being independently associated with glaucoma in these reduced models were then included in a single multivariate model. Optic disc area was included in the analysis at each level of the model. This approach was used for the total study group and then separately for the African American and white groups. RESULTS: When accounting for difference in optic disc area, rim area had the highest independent association with early glaucoma in both groups, but this association was lower in African Americans (odds ratio [95% confidence interval]: 1.63 [1.12-2.36]) than in whites (odds ratio: 4.74 [2.18-10.28]). Additional independently associated parameters included cup shape, maximum elevation along the contour line, and the temporal-to-inferior contour line modulation ratio in whites and cup shape and the temporal-to-superior contour line modulation ratio in African Americans. CONCLUSIONS: Structural characteristics of the optic disc that are best associated with early glaucoma included cup shape and rim area in both groups, but with a less pronounced association in African Americans. In addition, several other race-specific parameters that were independently associated with early glaucoma differed significantly between African Americans and whites. These race-specific differences were independent from the effect of optic disc area.