Dubois discusses the "double consciousness" that blacks internalize: this means that their own self perceptions almost always exist alongside the denigrating perceptions that white people hold of them. This leads to black self-hatred, and particularly, the tendency of educated black people to want to separate themselves from the rest of the black community.
Other problems include segregation, the continuation of the plantation system, the lack of full opportunity to advance economically, the lack of political franchise in the South (due to obstacles put in the way of the black voter), crime, and inferior public education. All of these rob the black community of vitality and the will to resist their second-class status. In short, they corrode the black soul.
While Dubois tries to give Booker T. Washington his due, he very strongly feels that Washington is leading black people down the wrong path. Dubois argues forcefully that accepting second-class citizenship and the myth of black inferiority in return for a few modest economic gains is a soul-destroying and ultimately-futile path for the black people.
Dubois argues that black people will never prosper by trying to compromise with white people over these fundamentals. Black people, Dubois says, must instead insist on full and equal rights with white people (rights that include integration, equal educational opportunities, and complete voting rights). Dubois believes the legacy of Booker T. Washington must be pushed aside if black people are ever to advance beyond a second-class status.