Would racism exist if there had been no U.S. slavery?

As I sat on a shady park bench on a sweltering day in New York City, I had a leisurely conversation with a friend who was hosting me for the weekend. He and I often find ourselves on opposite sides of hot button political issues, because he refuses to see how racism and white supremacy impact the everyday lives of people of color.

In the midst of our conversation he posed the following question: what would America look like if slavery had not existed here? If all African Americans had come as willing immigrants to this country, would we still have the issues I and many other progressives claim find their roots in generations of institutionalized and systemic racism?
I didn’t answer the question at the time because none of us live in a hypothetical world. The material reality of racism is embedded in the lived experiences of Black and brown people in this country. There is no area of public discourse where race is not a factor, be it health care and outcomes, employment, education, finances, criminal justice, politics and voting, civil liberties, housing, or foreign policy.