Many Imperial supporters claim that Ulfric and the Stormcloaks are racist bigots who discriminate against anyone who isn’t a Nord and that if they had their way, all other races would be purged from Skyrim. At first glance, it certainly seems this way. The moment you walk into Windhelm you encounter two Nords harassing a Dunmer woman, and with a bit of exploring, you’ll learn that Ulfric keeps the Dunmer in a slum and the Argonians outside the city. This seems pretty damning, so what’s to argue? To put it simply, the issue isn’t as straightforward as it appears, and I’ll address each argument in time.
1. Brunwulf Free-Winter: Brunwulf happens to be the source of many of the more damning accusations against Ulfric and the Stormcloaks. He claims that Ulfric believes Nords are superior to every other race and that if he had his way, anyone who isn't a Nord would be ‘shipped out of Skyrim', among other things.
Yet there are serious issues with Brunwulf’s credibility. First and foremost, if the Empire retakes Windhelm during the civil war and Ulfric is killed, General Tullius installs him as Jarl and calls him ‘an honorable and faithful man’. This heavily implies that Brunwulf was, in fact, actively serving Imperial interests during the war. Why? You don’t hand over control of a city that served as the heart of a rebellion to a random Imperial sympathizer. No, Brunwulf had somehow proven his loyalty and worth. Simply being a veteran of a war that was over nearly 30 years ago isn’t enough.
Second, many of the things Brunwulf claims about Ulfric are baseless. Ulfric wants to ship all Non-Nords out of Skyrim? Then why are the Dunmer, Argonians, Altmer, and Imperials still in Eastmarch? You’d think if that was his ideology, they’d be long gone. Instead, they are allowed to live in the hold. Surely if Ulfric’s goal was ‘a Skyrim for the Nords’ he’d start with his own territory? Plus, you'd think Ulfric would make at least a passing reference to his plans to Galmar or the Dragonborn once the war is over. Yet... we hear nothing. Neither Ulfric or Galmar ever say anything that would imply they plan to purge Skyrim to make it ‘racially pure’. In fact, for being such ‘racist bigots’ they never say anything derogatory about other races at all.
In other words, there is no evidence that Ulfric supports the sort of ideals Brunwulf claims he does, and ample evidence that Brunwulf is actually an Imperial spy. Spreading propaganda is in the job description, so taking him at his word is foolish.
2. The Argonians
This is often treated as the smoking gun for Ulfric’s racism by Imperials. After all, it was Ulfric’s decree that removed the Argonians from the city walls and forced them to live in the docks. Yet things aren’t as straightforward as they seem. If the Empire retakes Windhelm and you approach Jarl Brunwulf about allowing the Argonians back in the city, he makes a startling claim. He says that because the people of Windhelm are so distrusting of outsiders, the Argonians have to stay in the Docks for their own safety.
So the paragon of racial equality in Skyrim refuses to repeal Ulfric’s ‘racist’ decree. Yet there is something off about his rationale. While the Dunmer are harassed and discriminated against by two or three Nords in Windhelm, they’ve never complained about being attacked. So why would the Argonians be in danger? After all, unlike the Dunmer or Altmer, the Nords don’t have any history of animosity with Black Marsh or the Argonians that would cause them to lash out.
On the other hand, there is plenty of negative history between the Argonians and another race living in Windhelm. The Dunmer. For centuries, the Argonians were enslaved by the Dunmer in Morrowind, and following the eruption of Red Mountain they drove most of the dark elves out of their homeland in retaliation. And guess where the Argonians would have to live if they were allowed in the city? The Grey Quarter. So what’s more likely? That the Argonians face violence from the Nords, or from the Dunmer? I think it’s obvious.
Most importantly, if Brunwulf had good reasons for keeping the Argonians out in the docks, who is to say then that Ulfric didn’t when he made the decision in the first place? You can’t accuse Ulfric of being a racist while giving Brunwulf a pass for making the same decision.
3. The Dunmer and the Grey Quarter
The Grey Quarter is also presented as irrefutable proof of Ulfric’s racism. The Dunmer complain often and loudly about how they are forced to live in a ‘slum’ and that Ulfric keeps them there or will do nothing to help remedy their situation. There are numerous problems with this, to say the least.
First, does Ulfric really keep the Dunmer in the Grey Quarter? I doubt it. Unlike the Argonians, who mention a specific decree that keeps them from living in the city, the Dunmer simply insist that Ulfric is keeping them in the slums without ever mentioning a specific law or decree. Even Brunwulf makes no mention of repealing Ulfric’s ‘policy’ toward the Dunmer, and instead he simply talks about ‘renovating’ the Grey Quarter.
So why do they complain about being ‘trapped’ in the slums? Because they are effectively trapped there. Property in Windhelm is scarce and often expensive, which means that the Dunmer who live an essentially middle-class existence would be unable to afford to move into the city proper. But is that Ulfric’s fault? Hardly.
Second, does Ulfric really do nothing to help them? In this case, I’ll agree. Ulfric does nothing to improve the Dunmer’s situation. He isn’t willing to spend significant resources to renovate the Dunmer’s district. But I have to ask, so what? When has it ever been the responsibility of any government to pay for the upkeep or repair of private property?
Some might argue that he doesn’t have a responsibility to do so, but it’s his fault the district fell into such disarray to begin with. But there is no proof to back up this accusation. It would have taken decades of neglect for the Grey Quarter to fall into such a state of disrepair, and Ulfric only became Jarl within the last 10 to 20 years. Given that the Dunmer claim things were better for them in Windhelm before Ulfric came to power, this means that they are responsible for the decline.
That raises a question, however. Why would the Dunmer allow their homes to fall into such a state? To put it simply, many of them do not see Windhelm as their home and ultimately intend to return to Morrowind. Ambarys Rendar, the owner of the Cornerclub in Windhelm, will freely admit that once he has made enough money he plans to return to Morrowind in ‘high style’.
Given his own words, he obviously has enough gold to renovate his business. Yet he has chosen not to use it, despite the fact that the Cornerclub is one of the most rundown establishments in the Grey Quarter. To add to the irony, he then complains about Ulfric not doing anything about the ‘squalor’. So who is at fault here? The Dunmer for not maintaining their own property when they have the resources to do so, or Ulfric?