White Trash Nation

Midway through the 1990s, the author posed the question: Would the decade be defined by white trash? Two decades later, the question remains relevant.

  • Editors' Pick
  1. “If I hadn’t been married, I’d probably have propositioned her myself,” Mark Brown says of his sister-in-law Paula Corbin Jones, who is suing President Clinton for sexual harassment. “Paula dressed—shit, provocative ain’t even the word for it. You could see the crease of her ass, and at least two lips, maybe three. If a woman dresses to where a man is almost seeing it …”

    “She’d wear a black tank top, tight fitting and real low,” Charlotte Brown says of her youngest sister, “and leopard-skin spandex shorts.”

    “Once after she came out of the bathroom with a gob of makeup on her,” Mark says, drawing on a Winston, “I got my pocketknife out and I said, ‘If you stand real still, I bet I could get three or four jars of Maybelline off your face.’”

    The Browns sit under a live oak in front of their double-wide trailer in Cabot, Arkansas. A buzzard drifts overhead. Charlotte wears a rhinestone-spangled Country Blues T-shirt, and Mark a denim shirt with his cuffs rolled up to reveal various tattoos: a dragon, a dancing showgirl, a Harley-Davidson emblem. Cabot itself, population 8,319, is one of those uneasy junctions that signpost a changing America. The Cabot Pawn Shop is deep in shotguns and hunting crossbows; funnel cakes are on sale downtown; and rumpled farms with front-yard tire swings quilt the countryside—until they slam into the Tastee-Freez, the sorry subdivisions, the billboard that commands you to Fill Your Tank Twice at Texaco and McDonald’s.

    The Browns have a foot in ea...

Originally published in New York, August 1994