The idea of an American dominant culture is elusive and sometimes uncomfortable, so most people don't think about or discuss it except in brief references or symbols that index race / ethnicity, gender, religion, and class::
Whiteness [race / ethnicity]
DWEMs (Dead White European Males) [race / ethnicity + gender + age]
"the man," "angry white men" [gender + race / ethnicity + class?]
"the 1%"; owners and workers; financial sector and professional / blue collar; "People who work for their money and people whose money works for them." [class]
master-servant relation [class]
early settlers of North America, or pioneers in the Old West, who were largely northern European until the later 1800s.
All such identifications mix class, race, ethnicity, gender, religion, region, plus other variables, so any particular description will be hit-or-miss.
For American immigrant literature, the simplest approach to American dominant culture is . . .
What is the culture to which immigrants assimilate? What styles or values prevail in mainstream American culture?
VISUAL STYLES--public style or fashion: not flashy, cool, unemotional, businesslike; "unmarked" (clothing: khakis, business suits, skirt and heels or sensible shoes; good shoes) (+ "whiteness" can mean "blankness" or unmarked)
ELUSIVENESS TO INVISIBILITY: America's dominant culture is surprisingly invisible or hidden (Upper classes conceal unequal wealth behind walls of gated communities, way up in high rises, or in secure compounds). Or the dominant culture may simply be so obvious and omnipresent that it doesn't catch our attention, or it becomes a familiar, even desirable background; i.e., it is "unmarked."
SPEECH OR WRITING STYLES: "plain style"; plainspoken, non-theatrical (Puritans opposed theaters), impersonal; one's speech is one word--no separation between reality and language (cf. Biblical literalism). (See also VISUAL STYLES above.)
IDENTIFYING SYMBOLS: white bread, vanilla, soap, blonde hair & blue eyes
FOOD: bland but sturdy; "fuel"; e.g. meat & potatoes, pork and beans, cabbage, cottage cheese, pound cake, white bread, milk, bottled water. (Supports hard work but doesn't make you linger at table.) (Cracker Barrel.)
IMPERSONALITY: An American ideal is "a government of laws and not of men" (John Adams): an impersonal system or law prevails over personal status, birth, family, wealth. In everyday life the impersonal style may be labeled "professionalism," emphasizing reason, self-control, and individual or corporate interests or connections over personal identity and family relations. Meritocracy depends on credentials, tests, qualifications vs. personal identity.
INDIVIDUALISM / NUCLEAR FAMILY: The USA's culture of geographical and socio-economic mobility erodes Old World or traditional cultures' extended families and the stability of local social networks,
MOBILITY: In contrast to Old World or traditional cultures' identification with a home or place, the USA's dominant culture (along with subsequent immigrant groups) keeps moving, from Old World to New World, to Western frontiers or up in high-rises or outer space. (East as Old World to West as New World largely defines Western Civilization.)
NUCLEAR FAMILY: As with the ancient Jews of the Old Testament, the modern American dominant culture's mobility leads it continually to abandon extended family structures of traditional societies, putting stress on the patriarchal nuclear family of father, mother, children.
ORDERLY FREEDOM: USA dominant culture struggles to maintain a "community of individuals": self-determining subjects with rights who nonetheless respect the subjectivity and rights of others.
HISTORY: the demographics and systems necessary for the European conquest and settlement of North America owe largely to the major modernizing movements of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation, the Enlightenment, and Romanticism.
MODERNITY over TRADITION: Immigrants may arrive hoping to enjoy a traditional lifestyle, only richer and with rights, but the USA's culture of prosperity and individual rights requires constantly accelerating change or "creative destruction" of traditional lifestyles and values.
"Soap & Water" may negatively associate with whiteness as blankness, sterility, disinfection, but may be essential for maintaining public health among peoples from various lifestyles, traditions?
ECONOMICS: freemarket capitalism emphasizing profit motive and heroic individualism as key to wellbeing (+- socialism); government is transparent and limited by human or civil rights. Free market provides jobs and opportunity; liberal government protects individual rights.
RELIGION: mostly Protestant, but also respectful of privacy or personal choice. Protestantism is compatible with modern culture by constantly splitting to new sects or denominations, but also tradition-oriented: new Protestant churches frequently model themselves after the first Christians in the generation after Christ. (Recently some radical-conservative Protestants double-down by re-converting to Catholicism and even Eastern Orthodoxy as expressions against modernization.)
LITERACY: Protestantism (especially "Mainline Protestantism") emphasizes need for individual to read Bible in order to come to direct terms with God through scripture (in contrast to Catholicism's historical retention of literacy for priesthood).
Significance of Literacy:
RACE / ETHNICITY: Origins in European descent, i.e., "white people," but some intermarriage with other nationalities and races occurs as long as the new members conform to dominant styles and values. Asian "Model Minorities" enjoy comparable status. Counterbalancing racial exclusivity are "universal" appeals from Christianity (and other "World Religions") and Enlightenment ideas of "universal rights."
CLASS: "rich people?"—but many middle and working class whites identify through race or ideology. Poorer whites often support wealthier whites in belief that they too may be rich someday, while associating political efforts for equality with ethnic minorities.
GENDER: masculine privilege, but European chivalry honors women (esp. up the class and education ladder, as true of all cultures). Protestant ideas of individual soul's equality before God empowers wider equality.
RELATIONS BETWEEN GENERATIONS: "Honor your father and mother," but don't stick around or follow their models except in family values. Traditional cultures favor generational continuity; modern cultures require that, instead of imitating their parents, individuals imitate or emulate their peers.
ASSIMILATION / RESISTANCE? The dominant culture as immigrants did NOT assimilate to the pre-existing cultures in North America (i.e. Native American culture) but brought their own cultures and languages with them. Early European-American immigrants are often called "settlers," "pioneers," "explorers," or more negatively "conquerors."
More on race or nationality . . . (see Ethnicities of the USA's Dominant Culture)
USA's dominant culture derives from early settlers from Northern and Western Europe, especially England and the British Isles
Three main traditions or strains of America's dominant culture from several early waves of English immigrants:
Puritan immigrants (1600s) in New England and Upper Midwest:
Immigrants to Virginia and other Mid-Atlantic States (1600s); less commitment to community or government, more commitment to unregulated freemarket economics, private education, rich-poor society.
Scots-Irish immigrants (1700s) in Appalachian mountains and westward into lower Midwest, the South, Oklahoma and Texas, even parts of California and the Mountain West
Proper spelling of a single word won't make or break your semester, but it really helps your instructor-grader's mood if you don't spell "dominant culture" as "dominate culture."