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In my opinion, it causes tensions with the other characters because in Shakespeare's day (much more openly than in our day) racism was an accepted fact of life.
In Shakespeare's time, there were very few black people in England. They were looked at in familiar stereotypical ways -- they were seen as animalistic, inferior in many ways, and overly interested in sex.
Because of this, having a black person in such a position of power (not to mention having a black person win the love of a young white woman) would have automatically made people angry. It is as if a black person had become governor of Alabama in 1962 or something like that. Everyone would have been out to get him, especially if he was married to a white woman known for her beauty.
So it's really just an issue of race and the racial attitudes that would have been assumed in Shakespeare's day.
Certainly being black makes Othello an outsider. Still he is a general and a kick-ass one at that. These two themes are at conflict throughout the play. Check out the link below for some interpretations.
I think that Othello's race is a dividing element which causes him to be seen as an Outsider. While he is a great general, the point is made that it is unique and rare to make him, a Moor, a governor. Essentially, the Senators and ruling elite are happy with Othello when he is working for them, but because he is different from him, he is not entirely trusted when given control. This is due to his race, which is the element of difference that plays a subtlety distinctive role in his downfall. Iago knows this all too well. As he works on Othello in doubting Desdemona, Iago seizes on the fact that he is Black, thereby different, as one of the reasons why she would cheat on her beloved. Race is not the only element used by Iago and certainly is not the only reason why Othello's conflict with others is caused, but the element of "being different" is a part of the fundamental lack of embrace that Othello enjoys from others.
Othello’s color serves to complicate the already complex social positions he holds. His military prowess and the respect earned by the Duke because of his abilities is cause for others to be jealous: Brabantio is affronted that Othello’s presence is noted before his, and that the Duke allows Othello and Desdemona to defend their actions regarding their union.
Roderigo is perturbed that both she and her father have rejected his advances towards Desdemona: her marriage to Othello is further disappointment.
Iago is angered that as his employer Othello is unfair and erratic in his selection of lieutenant, and also appears to believe that Othello has cuckolded him. Again, his ethnicity is held against him in Iago’s cruel railings.
Each of these disputes exists outside of Othello’s color, and yet each conflict is met with racist comments from those wounded in Othello’s wake.