When I first moved to Moab nearly 11 years ago, I eagerly soaked up local cultural and natural history. It was difficult for me to choke out the name of the canyon, but I did so for the sake of honoring local lore. However, after becoming a mother and hiking there frequently with my son, I realized it was time to rechristen it. I did not want to hear an ugly “euphemism” for an even uglier racial slur come out of the mouth of my 4-year-old child. So “Bill Canyon” became our name for the place, after which hearing the actual name struck me as exceptionally backwards and disrespectful.
Why backwards and disrespectful? Because the word “negro” is a form of a fouler “N-word” that began to be used for a very large, heterogeneous group of people in the mid 1500s. Originally meaning “black” or “bad” in Latin, it came to be a derogatory term applied to many generations of Africans and then Americans. I submit that the negative connotations of “negro” override any historical value that retaining its use has.
As written about in an earlier issue of The Times-Independent, historical records indicate that William Grandstaff chose to be called by his given name, rather than the local nickname by which he was known during his time in Moab. Historical accuracy is subjective in that the lens through which we choose to view history allows us to focus on different things.
The old name focuses on Mr. Grandstaff’s skin color. Let’s widen our lens in order to remember him for the whole person he was.