Since the insurrection at the capitol building on January 6, a common refrain in the United States has been that the country’s democracy is “under threat.” And yet, hasn’t democracy always been under threat in the United States? Perhaps, to put it more precisely, it has never existed. The nation’s history is defined by the struggle to secure rights and protections for all people, because, from its founding to the present, it has never realized the core principles of democracy: political equalityfundamental rights, and equal protection. For over 250 years, Black people were enslaved and denied every right while being subject to physical and mental torture, and in the subsequent century—save for the brief period of Black Reconstruction—Black citizens were subject to legalized discrimination in every facet of life, including voting, housing, employment, public accommodation, and health care. Black people continue to face limitations on the full exercise of their rights, from racist criminal justice policies to voter suppression. These violations have led to governments elected by and for a wealthy and white few, who entrenched their power through exploitation, dehumanization, and exclusion.

Activistsscholars, and researchers across generations have argued that reparations are the way to bring this anti-democratic history to a close. In the United States, most people think of reparations exclusively as cash payments to Black people, and it’s true that financial restitution has always been part of the conversation. But to fully make reparations for the violations of Black people’s rights, we must do more: We must create the conditions for a true multiracial democracy. Reparations go beyond the financial; they mean demanding the cessation of policies that infringe on Black peoples’ rights and suppress Black political power. Reparations also demand that we learn from the ways the United States has violated core democratic principles, and redress that harm by creating a political system where the tenets of democracy are extended to everyone.

Recent economic and cultural shifts have opened a window of opportunity. Massive and expanding wealth inequality has given rise to two generations of young people who are ready to rewrite the economic status quo. The response to the pandemic has illustrated that government can make massive financial investments in our collective economic well-being. Finally, the decade-strong movement for Black lives—arguably the largest such movement in US history—has activated millions to seek justice for state violence against Black people. The country is ready for reparations.

Read the full article about reparations by Nicole Carty, Aria Florant and Vikas Maturi at Stanford Social Innovation Review.