Afropuff Lederhosen' speaker mixes stereotypes with humor

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By KJ LANG klang@lacrossetribune.com | Posted: Wednesday, October 7, 2009 12:15 am

Actress Vanessa Roberts gave her audience a good laugh Tuesday night - and an invitation to re-think how they view race.

The 24-year-old Roberts of Brooklyn, N.Y., showed real photos of herself living in Germany from ages 4 to 8 during her one-woman show, "Afropuff Lederhosen: What happens if you take a black baby and raise it to be German" at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

She performed as Dr. Klaudia Von Rassenberg, decked out in in a bleach-blonde wig. Von Rassenberg pointed to the photos - including one of a 7-year-old Roberts with a 2-inch afro and lederhosen, a traditional German pair of leather overall shorts - and admitted being baffled by "the contradiction."

Another photo showed Roberts with her mother, partaking in the "German tradition of hiking in the forest."

"Please note the subject's scowl ... it is clear that her blackness will not permit her to fully appropriate this German custom," said Von Rassenberg.

The character's over-the-top view that race programs people to act in certain ways allowed Roberts to break down racial stereotypes.

"I view stereotypes as the fast food of cultural exchange,"

See Roberts, B2

Roberts said in an interview. "Stereotypes are cheap, easily accessible but not very sustaining."

UW-L sophomore Peter Moua said he's Hmong, but people sometimes ask if he is Chinese. He said Roberts' presentation was a good way to educate people about race.

"It was creative how she discussed a heavy topic of race through comedy and performance, and was able to convey ideas in a way that was not too preachy," said Mahruq Khan, professor in women's gender and sexuality studies at UW-L.

Roberts said the humor helps her connect with the audience.

"I feel that a lot of diversity work and workshops that I've taken part in were often detached or somewhat clinical or somewhat preachy," she said. "I'm trying to re-infuse humanity into this work, using humor and personal stories."