Explain this Chris Rock joke to me

So I was listening to one of Chris Rock’s HBO comedy specials the other day, and he was talking about how black folk have it worse than white folk. He then said,


I don’t get it. Can someone explain it to this average, middle class white guy?

I think this phrase would be perfect for the “things that sound brilliant but are really stupid when you analyze them” thread that’s currently making the rounds. :slight_smile:

I’m sure the point he’s trying to get across is that black men have a ceiling for success, but white men don’t. Poor choice of words, though.

I’d have picked something like:

"When you’re white, the sky’s the limit. When you’re black, it’s ‘how high can ya jump, nigga?’"

Same point, better wording.

Is it possible he said, “When you’re black, the limit’s this guy”? If he’d referenced The Man earlier in the monologue, that at least might make sense.


I think that’s a lot funnier, Chastain86. I can even hear his delivery on that. “Jump nigga! Jump nigga! Jump ya fuckin’ nigga!”

That *would * make more sense, LHoD. But I’m fairly sure he said “the limit’s the sky.”

This is a lot like John F. Kennedy’s, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The turn of phrase examines two opposite ideas.

For whites, there is no limit to the sky, which is what the phrase really means, that your options are (virtually) limitless. If you’re white, you can see how this attitude is reflected in popular culture, (Star Trek, Babylon 5, even the new Thunderbirds) real world political applications (“Star Wars” defense deterrant), technology (global positioning) and pioneering accomplishments (aviation, warfare, space travel). In fantasy and reality, the sky is a frontier to be explored and conquered.

For blacks – ethnically, culturally, and in reality – the sky has limits. There is a blueness, an atmosphere you do cannot go beyond. The sky is a medium to travel through on the way to an eventual Earthbound destination. “Soul Plane” and “Homeboys In Outer Space” are our popular sky-driven fantasies. Those few who dream if doing more while their young are often discouraged from thinking this is realistic. Those fewer still who ignore such advice are only later hailed as pioneers, black “firsts,” and heroes.

I remember when ST:Voyager debuted and talking to some white guy who thought the notion of a black Vulcan was “weird.” Not the holgraphic doctor, or Kate Mulgrew, or Worf on ST:TNG – the intellectual black Vulcan.

Chris Rock’s observation seems apt.

Or maybe you’re just oversensitive. No one thought the intellectual black engineer in ST:TNG was weird.

I’m not aware of anyone who thought Tuvok was weird because he was being presented as a black intellectual. People thought he was weird because the series had never before presented a Vulcan who broke from the phenotype (I think that’s the right word) typified by Spock and Sarek. Also because his name broke the “five letters beginning with S” naming convention. That irritated me more than anything else about Voyager. At least intially, then lots more stuff annoyed me.


I get the point he was trying to make, I just didn’t (still don’t, really) understand the analogy of the limit being the sky. Probably like Chastain86 said: poor wording.

Nothing worse than explaining jokes, but here we go…

If you play with the meaning of “the limit” and you end up with something like “an oppressive system that limits opportunity,” you can make sense of it. Like the sky, “the limit”/this system/American society is huge, omnipresent, hanging over every Black person’s head and seemingly endless.

hapaXL. Tell me about it. Yet. I. Can’t. Help. Myself. I have this needy urge to explain black culture to puzzled white people.

Neurotik. Oversensitive of what? I’m not the one who thought a black Vulcan was “weird”, I just noted his attitude.

Otto. Uh, no. Not the name. He made it plain it was “weird” because he didn’t think Vulcans should be black.

Lord Ashtar. Oh, I dunno if the wording is poor so much as the difference in the juxtaposition of the antitheses is extremely subtle. I probably overexplained it… and in retrospect should have said, “What Chastain66 said.” (Ceiling for success was short and good.)

“For whites, the sky’s the limit.” In other words, there’s no limit to how high you can rise.

“For blacks, the limit’s the sky.” In other words, the most blacks can get is the sky: a great big empty nothing.

At least, that’s how I interpret it.

I disagree with all explanations so far.

The sky’s the limit means you can have or do anything that can possibly be had or done. “The sky” is a metaphor for the unattainable (you can never possess the sky), meaning that if the unattainable were the limit, everything attainable is under the limit.

The limit’s the sky … using the metaphor from above, this translates to “the limit is unattainable”, meaning that black people are not able to reach their full potential.

Monocracy’s interpretation is exactly what I was trying to say, said much better than I did.

Ditto. Christ, that’s annoying.

Setting aside the fact that Vulcans should look more like Tuvok than Spock if they actually existed due to their planet’s close proximity to the sun, I found it pretty odd at first too. Up until that point, all Trek races had been pretty monlothic in both culture and appearance and Tuvok broke from that mold. When you get thirty years of white Vulcans, it’s only natural that a black one would be surprising.

Would you think an obviously Asiatic Klingon would be weird? Or even a white one? Same difference.

Although every named male Vulcan character (up to a point) followed that convention (Spock, Sarek, Stonn, Surak, Sonak and Sybok, as well as the retroactively inserted Soval from Enterprise) it’s truly a ridiculous idea that a planetary population wouldn’t quickly run out of permutations.

The first “unconventional” Vulcan name actually belonged to the female Saavik, breaking away from the standard implied by T’Pol and T’Pau. Later on were the female Vulcan characters Valeris and Selar, each well before Tuvok. Shortly after Voyager got started, there was a DS9 episode featuring a Vulcan man named Chu’lak. I’m sure I’ve missed a few examples here and there.

If there had been a naming convention (and I still don’t think the tiny sample size would prove it), it seems to have evaporated around the time of original series.

Aesiron. Exactly same difference. None at all! I’m the type of person who’s wondering why you DON’T see more Asian actors in alien races on Trek, especially in the series after ST:TNG. I’ve always assumed the lack of diversity on ST:TOS was due to limited casting opportunities for minority actors in the 1960s. I’m frequently annoyed on some level when the future of humanity seems painfully non-diverse.

Worf broke the mold for Klingons, first-- both in terms of race and Federation membership. Dr. Crusher broke the mold for doctors, which was nicely extended to Bashir. Sulu broke the mold for Federation Captains.

I thought from the moment I heard about Tuvok: “Whoa. Cool. Really? Finally.

To hear a wrongness with Tim Russ playing a Vulcan just because he’s black… rankled.

My only moment thinking the casting of an alien character was inappropiate due to the ethnicity of an actor was with Worf’s kid, Alexander, and that was SOLEY due to his TV father, played by Michael Dorn. At the very least, the kid should’ve had a darker complexion and thicker lips and kinda look like his father. (Plus his name. I mean, Alexander, son of Worf, grandson of Mogh? Yeesh.)

As the geek cloud slowly lifts, I start to remember the original question.

If you consider the sky, it has no definite lower border, i.e. the sky technically extends all the way to the ground, and this might be what Rock had in mind; a black man can’t rise higher than ground level.

As verbal gymnastics go, it’s not even as good as the lamest “In Soviet Union…” line.

[Geek cloud falling…]
There had been female doctors in the original series, including Sally Kellerman’s psychiatrist character in the second pilot.

It’s not the verbal gymnastics you’re supposed to admire. It’s the truth behind the turn of phrase.