Count me as one who ranks this as a favorite. As my first post on this forum I'm tempted to say a lot, but the two posts below cover most of my bases and I feel are worth a re-read.
I think something that gets lost in retrospect about this episode is that Marc Scott Zicree meant for the story to not only address racism in the 50s, but also to pay loving homage to the generation of science fiction writers of that era that influenced (and in some cases, wrote episodes for) STAR TREK. There was also an overt nod to TWILIGHT ZONE, for which Zicree wrote the seminal reference book.
Also: hi, everybody!
I didn't know about the Zecree connection until I did a re-watch last year, and think it explains a lot about the episode's approach. I wouldn't be surprised if the episode's genesis was as a love letter to the science fiction writers before Trek just as "Tribbilatiions" was to TOS. In this case, I think the conceit allowed/forced the writer to go thematally deeper since the setting, both in time and location, necessitates acknowledgment that the multi-racial and gender cast would be anachronistic in the era being saluted.
While it might seem over-the-top or too focused on race to some I think it does a fair job. DS9 and Trek are not noted for their subtlety and this is in the same ballpark to me. Also, I personally find nuance in that multiple views on overcoming the racial issue that remain contemporary are represented. No two African-American characters seem to agree on their own personal solution: religion, sports, crime, entrepreneurship or writing; each person is critical of the others' attempts to rise up. There is no monolithic view of how to improve their lot in life. I see this as a fairly universal problem being seen through the intensified lens of race issues, as Bad Thoughts states below.
Bad thoughts wrote:
I hope Bad thoughts corrects me here if I'm wrong, but I think his point is the episode deals with a lot more besides the characters being black. The issues could be applied to any racial or cultural group that is systematically persecuted or denied rights of other citizens. Star Trek often presented its moral statements in ways that are obvious on the surface, but with deeper meanings.
It has potential to speak to many groups. Being a woman, Eaton shared at least some of the distrust that Benny had as a professional. On the other hand, their lives might differ in how they experience violence (if at all). A woman in the 1950s might not fear being beaten by the police, but how would she be treated by the police if she wanted to report that she was raped by an acquaintance, perhaps even her husband?
Where the episode does focus on a particularly African-American view is how it perceives the future. The whole thing about getting the story published was to assert that there was a hopeful future available to them. I hate to use the phrase, because it is very current, but the story was audacious because it offered hope. If a Jew and Jewish social movements were at the center of the story, it would necessarily focus on justice. Women, equality. Of course, all these movements share interest in equality, hope and justice, but those qualities are emphasized differently by each one. In other context, we might focused on autonomy or traditionalism. Unfortunately the script did not emphasize "hope" as much as it should. It's not something that Benny emphasized, but he responded to it from other people: Jimmy's lack of hope and the discussion about who might be having the dream.
ETA: For proper disclosure, I am Jewish with some Mexican heritage.
Finally, all forms of discrimination are comparable.
ETA2: I forgot that Herb Rossoff, who is at least coded to be a Jew, may be either a communist or socialist, suggesting a different way of looking at the future.
Disclosure here: I'm also Jewish but studied African-American literature in grad school, focusing greatly on the 1920s-1950s. I've also studied Caribbean literature and have dabbled in other lesser discussed corners of literature where one can easily find the same recurring universal thematic issues made more idiosyncratic through specificity of race, gender, belief system or, like, being a goth at a, y'know, prep school. Specificity makes it resonate.
That all said... Much as I love Sisko and like Avery Brooks, I concede he can out-ham Shatner in ways that make my teeth gnash.