Jesse Jackson says white Americans are finally “awakening” to the nation’s racial crisis

USAToday reports the Rev. Jesse L. Jackson Sr. has been at the heart of the fight for civil rights for most of his 78 years, a journey that has taken him from aide to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to running for president in 1988.

But while social justice gains have often been elusive, Jackson now finds himself optimistic. The multi-racial and multi-city protests sparked by the death of George Floyd suggest that many Americans have become painfully aware of the nation’s festering racial wound, Jackson told USA TODAY Monday.

“I’m hopeful because we have finally pulled the scab back,” Jackson said. “Many white people never had the chance to really express how they feel. These marches are marches of hope. White people are saying racism is a problem, that’s an awakening.”

While for decades “white America tolerated lynching,” Jackson added, “today white people feel embarrassed by what’s happening.”

In recent days, diverse crowds of Americans have protested in cities large and small over the death of Floyd and other men, women and children killed by police.

Many of the protests were held in towns with relatively small African American populations, from Norfolk, Nebraska, to Farmington, New Mexico. White celebrities have come out in support of Black Lives Matter, including Ariana Grande, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber.

Minneapolis City Council leader Lisa Bender, who is white, was among those voting for an historic measure Sunday to defund the city’s police department. Also on Sunday, former presidential hopeful and Republican Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah tweeted out photos of himself — with the caption “Black Lives Matter” — at a protest near the White House, becoming the first Republican lawmaker to do so.

Jackson said the unprecedented protests are due in part to a perfect storm of issues coming to the fore at the same time, including the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately hit black Americans. He said the outbreak, along with police brutality and income inequality, need to tackled at the ballot box in November.

“We must vote and have our vote counted,” he said.