(CNN)From chaotic school board meetings to political strife along party lines, critical race theory has ignited a controversy across the country in recent months.
At least two dozen states have banned critical race theory or introduced legislation to ban it from being taught in the classroom, with many conservatives calling it a divisive concept. Educators, however, argue that critical race theory itself is generally not included in grade school curriculum.
And proponents along with critical race theorists insist that the concept is largely misunderstood.
Gary Peller, a professor at Georgetown Law and author of "Critical Race Consciousness: Reconsidering American Ideologies of Racial Justice," said critical race theory acknowledges that racism is both systemic and institutional in American society and that White people have historically held racial power. Its origins date back to the late 1970s and early 1980s when legal scholars realized that advances in the civil rights movement did not eradicate racism, Peller said.
"Critical race theory starts from the realization... that simply taking down Whites only signs was not sufficient to end the effects of centuries of the subordination of African Americans in the United States," Peller said. "And that there were other vestiges of racial power that remained."
Here is a look at how critical race theory became a central issue this year and the uproar surrounding it.
How did we get here?
Peller and other political observers credit Christopher Rufo, a senior conservative research fellow and filmmaker, with injecting critical race theory back into American consciousness in 2020.
Rufo had done some research on diversity trainings for federal employees and said he believed critical race theory had "pervaded" every level of government.
In a Fox News interview in September 2020, Rufo said he called on then-President Donald Trump "to immediately issue an executive order and stamp out this destructive, divisive, pseudoscientific ideology at its root."
Trump would later denounce critical race theory himself and order a ban on teaching critical race theory in federal government trainings.
The move was widely criticized by federal employee groups who said Trump was promoting a misconception of diversity training meant to make workplaces more welcoming for employees of all races.
"Critical race theory is being forced into our children's schools, it's being imposed into workplace trainings, and its being deployed to rip apart friends, neighbors, and families," Trump said in September.