Racism, colonialism, imperialism… All three are touched on heavily throughout the entire Elder Scrolls series, and when you boil it all down, no side is innocent.
There may be spoilers in here from Skyrim, Oblivion, Morrowind, and the books by Greg Keyes, though I don’t expect this to be spoiler heavy.
First, an overview. In Skyrim, there are the Mer or Elves (Altmer, Bosmer, Dunmer, Orsimer), the humans (Nords, Imperials, Redguard, Breton), Khajit (feline people), and Argonians (amphibious reptile people). The Orsimer, or orcs, used to be elves until their diety, Trinimac, was defeated by Boethiah. Trinimac was transformed into Malacath, and his loyal subjects were transformed into orcs.
Colonialism and Imperialism is introduced in Skyrim almost immediately. The Empire has signed the White-Gold Concordat with the Aldmeri Dominion on the condition to end the Great War, without which it’s arguable that the Altmer would have crushed the Empire and is thus highly favourable to the elves.
The Aldmeri Dominion is primarily composed of Altmer–High Elves–however they have “liberated” and re-unified with the Bosmer–wood elves–more recently. A large portion of Hammerfell, home of the Redguard, was surrendered, causing the Redguard to rebel, and the Empire released it from its status as an Imperial province, causing a rift between the Redguard and the Empire.
The Concordat also bans Talos worship. Talos was a man who ascended to godhood because he was just that awesome, and because of this, he was strongly worshiped in Skyrim. Worshipers of Talos are now hunted down and killed by the Thalmor, the ruling party of the Aldmeri Dominion.
There are so many over arching themes because of this in regards to the right to rule, rights to land, rights to religion. The nords complain that their freedom and rights have been stripped from them, however the Nords have also taken the land from the natives of Skryim – the Foresworn – and stripped them of their freedom and religion. The themes are repeated greatly throughout the game about power, who has it, who doesn’t, and how everyone else plays into it.
The Dunmer and the Argonians have had a long and sordid history, the Dunmer having kept the Argonians as slaves for a millennium. When Red Mountain exploded, killing off thousands of Dunmer, the Argonians launched their assault, practically wiping out all the Dunmer remaining in Morrowind.
Khajit are thought of as being sneaky and untrustworthy. Orcs are seen as brutes. The Altmer talk about how elves should be at the top of society and it’s only a matter of time before the rest of the races bend their knee in acceptance of this fact.
The racism adds so much vibrant life into the society as a whole, filling their residence with prejudices and beliefs of their own, adding depth and interest to each of the races.
And they talk about it. Racism is spoken about often, the trials and tribulations of each people often reflected on by multiple sides. It forces our character to make choices, to take sides, to understand that, maybe, no one is right. Every group has their flaws and their positives, and if only they could put aside their beliefs, they might see that – but that is asking a lot.
To ask someone to put aside their culture and their beliefs and their ideals to try to come to a compromise is not an easy thing, especially when one side wants more compromise than another, such as the Argonian revenge. Or when someone wants compromise in an area that the other is not willing to give it, such as with the worship of Talos.
Solving huge issues like the want for land, or the desire for free worship, or the freedom to practice your cultural norms is not something so easy as people want it to be, and the Elder Scrolls series succeeds at displaying this in a vibrant and passionate way.