Six years ago, I met one of my dearest white friends. We met in a new mommies group. We both had newborns. She was talking about Johnson & Johnson’s baby oil.
I looked at her. She has everything I want. Confidence, charisma, beauty and brains.
“…and who uses Vaseline? Especially on their baby! It’s made from PA-troll-eeee-um. You might as well stick that baby in the Gulf of Mexico after the BP spill!”
I listened intently but I was stunned. I had been slathering my newborn son in some sort of organic aloe, vegan beeswax, sunflower seed oil with calming camomile. I knew that my son was going to be alright. I’m not going to expose him to that!
I recently went to one of my acupuncturists healers. Her name is Sun Corn (or some sort of a celestial being plant). She’s white and magical. I asked her if I could charge my cell phone on a plug…she said “let’s put that with the receptionist. We don’t want those cell phone radiation vibes toxifying our space. We need to keep our chi balanced.
While she was cupping my back after a reiki sesh, she said “Isn’t it great? I wish someone would cup me.”
I responded, “Oh yeah, I have a guy downtown who does cupping. He only charges $10 for cupping. He’s Chinese…. Oh but I think he uses baby oil.”
GASP. (You would have thought I said that he clubbed baby seals).
“Woah. I can’t. I recently got a massage in Cuba and I was like, ‘oh wait!?!? What is she slathering on me!?!? It’s like petroleum or something. Nooooo!”
I love my dear well meaning white friends.
I think of the kasamas in the Philippines who are being displaced by mining companies. And all of our kasamas who are losing their land because of pipelines and drilling and spills….
But then. Then I go to my office and I talk with my wise colleague.
He asked, “Did your family use Vicks vapor rub? Growing up, my family always had it in the house.”
I exclaimed, “Yes!!!!!”
I was reminded of a long lost memory that I had totally forgotten. I had taken Vick’s Vaporub for granted. It was such a staple in our house. That and Vaseline. They were always on my Lola and Lolo’s dresser. Well loved jars.
I said, “Well I get this non-petroleum jelly version now.”
And he said, “Yeah my wife gets it too. It’s not the same.”
My colleague’s from an immigrant/migrant family too.
I thought about it. And I started to obsess about Vaseline and Vic’s vaporub. I talked and processed. I did web searches for “poetry” and “vaporub.” I found an “ode to vaporub.”
I started to question myself. Have I been living a lie? I buy all these moisturizers and tinctures. Holistic and herbal. Organic and non-toxic. No GMOs. To heal my wounds. To bring me closer to Mother Earth. And I’ve been engulfed by the holistic healthy living – well being industrial complex.
Am I trying to be white? Are these lotions mimicking the oppressive whitening creams that Filipinx use to lighten their skin so as to appear white? Maybe it’s not about whiteness. There are blue collar and/ or working class whites that use Vaseline and or Vic’s.
I was recently texting with one of my best friends who has really dry hands from his trade. I remember going to Kiehls with him go get their super strength hand cream like 12 years ago.
Me: My hands r so dry: what do U use for your hands ? Have u tried O’keefes? Looking for suggestions?
Him: Sorry to hear that