There is much debate about the reach and seriousness of racial prejudice today. We ask: How do ordinary people come to view events as racist? Using an experiment, we investigate the effects of elite charges of racism on public perceptions of police conduct. We test several hypotheses, including discounting, expertise, and ingroup bias, pertaining to how public stereotypes moderate elite influence. We find that stereotypes matter, and that Democrats, Republicans, blacks, and whites cannot make claims about racism with equal success.