William Shakespeare wrote Othello in England around the turn of the seventeenth century, so the ideas about race that he presents are strongly shaped by his understanding of his own society as well as that of Venice. In writing about racism in the play, it is important to keep in mind that the meanings of “race” continually changes over time. In Shakespeare’s day, there was no science of biology. The concept of race included skin color, place of origin, and religion. For the character of Othello specifically, “Moor” can indicate dark skin, African origin or heritage, or Muslim faith.
In trying to understand how Shakespeare presented racism, it is important to bear in mind the sources he had available about “Moors” as well as about Venice. Contemporary works about Venice could be useful, such as Gasparo Contarini’s 1599 study; these can be found in scholarly library websites, such as that of the British Library. Primary documents also appear in published critical editions, such as the one edited by Kim Hall, who has written several articles on “Blackness” in the play.
Within the play, specific characters reveal racist attitudes and behaviors. Shakespeare uses these individuals to represent larger societal patterns. A written analysis could focus on those individuals or emphasize the broader issues, such as marriage. Desdemona’s father, Brabantio, apparently opposes his daughter’s marriage to the Moor. Iago plays a prominent role in encouraging that opposition. He is among the characters who actually call Othello “Black.” One could examine the bases of the father's opposition, which may be based on Othello’s color or the possibility that he is a current or former Muslim.